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Home or High Water

As sea levels continue to rise, coastal communities are trapped between the reality of climate change and the antiquated political policies that threaten their future. Battered by stronger, more frequent storms, residents are faced with an impossible decision: rebuild their home in place to collect flood insurance payments or abandon their property—along with any equity they've accrued—and find a way to start again somewhere else.

"Everyone has an individual pathway through that decision about leaving a place you call home," says Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

In HOME OR HIGH WATER, Rush shares her experience among coastal communities large and small, from the storm-ravaged eastern shore of Staten Island to the disappearing bayous of Louisiana.

The timely, 12-minute film takes the conversation about climate crisis out of the future and into the present, to the practical reality of lives already in the balance. How are communities at risk adapting? What can they teach us about the challenges to come?

  • Dave Weich
  • Michael Nipper
    Director of Photography
  • Dave Weich
  • Michael Nipper
  • Sheepscot Creative
  • Benna Gottfried
    Associate Producer
  • Elizabeth Rush
    Key Cast
  • Paste in Place
    Maps and Graphics
  • Michael Nipper
  • Scott Ballard
  • Therese Mcpherson
  • Beau Patrick Coulon
  • John-Carlo Monti
  • Jesse Nordhausen
    Audio Tech
  • Derek Rutkai
  • Elizabeth Rush
  • Anthropocene Alliance
  • Marmoset Music
  • Anthropocene Alliance
    Supplemental Footage
  • Trust for Public Lands
    Supplemental Footage
  • Waggonner & Ball
    Architectural Drawings
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    11 minutes 25 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 19, 2019
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Dave Weich

Dave has interviewed thousands of subjects for screen and print, from Annie Leibovitz, Salman Rushdie and Ethan Hawke to ecologists, engineers, business leaders, teachers and students. His documentaries have screened in more than seventy American cities. "State by State" (2008) earned a recommendation from the New Yorker. "This Place Called Nuka" (2018) won the Audience Award for Best Short at the Spokane International Film Festival. As the president of Sheepscot Creative, Dave directs narratives and communication strategy on behalf of nonprofits and government agencies that improve quality of life across the Pacific Northwest.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

“As seas rise, some places can’t be saved,” warns the New York Times. “Even the cities that seem best defended against rising sea levels face the potential of catastrophic flooding,” CNN reports.

One challenge in understanding, or even communicating about sea level rise: the threat is too big for our brains to compute. Our eyes glaze over the impossibly large numbers in projections, the scale of the problem. A house underwater? A neighborhood? A whole city? Our brains go slack.

But "Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore" (a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction) comes at the subject in terms that readers can handle. Elizabeth Rush insinuates herself among the residents of a disappearing island in the Louisiana Bayou, a beach town on Staten Island flooded by Hurricane Sandy, a neighborhood association in Pensacola, Florida. A local geologist and conservationist introduce her to the rotting coast of Maine. "Rising" doesn’t shy away from data; it’s just that Rush never lets data divert her attention—or our attention, as readers—away from the people and cultures that over centuries have come to occupy our shores.

In HOME OR HIGH WATER, we focus on two of Rising’s locations: the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana; and Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, a short ferry ride from Manhattan. Two radically different communities, thousands of miles apart, whose populations are asking the same existential questions while struggling against self-defeating, life-threatening government policies.

Seas are rising. They will continue to rise. While we still have options, we should be making thoughtful decisions and creating sane, humane policy around a situation that isn’t going away.

After reading her book, I saw that Elizabeth had an upcoming event in Portland. We emailed, and she agreed to an interview. Reed College, where she’d earned a degree in Poetry, let us film in its beautiful library. I wrote the script from pieces of that conversation.

The project wound up being a labor of love for a whole team of Portland-based contributors. Sheepscot Creative, my company, produced the film. Paste in Place designed the maps and graphics pro bono. Marmoset provided licenses to almost all of the music free of charge.

We hope that HOME OR HIGH WATER helps viewers approach the idea of sea level rise in relatable, even actionable terms, much like "Rising" does for readers. On behalf of all the contributors, thanks for watching.