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Interactive digital documentary to transport viewers to ‘front lines’ of powerful worldwide coastal, climate issues

Contributed • Sep 28, 2018 at 8:12 PM

All the sights and sounds of the shore are there — the ebb and flow of waves, an occasional flock of gulls or a crane, a passing fishing boat, a bobbing plastic bottle, colorful chairs and umbrellas on the beach, a looming oil derrick in the background.

With video and educational materials from nine countries, Liz Miller’s “The Shore Line Project” documents the gamut of the wonders and concerns surrounding the world’s coastlines. This interactive documentary, or “storybook,” as she calls it, will be at the fingertips of visitors until Oct. 5 at East Tennessee State University’s Carroll Reece Museum.

Miller recently visited ETSU for an artist talk at the Reece Museum. 

“There has never been a better time to rethink our relationship to our shorelines,” says the award-winning documentarian. “We are seeing one of the greatest migrations of all times toward coastal cities at precisely the moment we should consider retreat. Shorelines are powerful, disruptive and awe-inspiring. (They are) a front line for disasters and they are also the front line of resistance.”

The communication studies professor at Concordia University in Montreal shot, inspired or gathered 43 stories for this project, profiling the efforts of educators, artists, architects, scientists, city planners and youth organizations who are confronting coastal challenges with “persistence and imagination.”

Documented shorelines span the globe: mangrove forests in New Zealand, a fishing community in Southern India, Chile’s endangered glaciers, a stormy barrier island in New Jersey, polluted waters in the Andamen Islands, a river in Jakarta now an eco-park, flood-beset Bangladesh and Vancouver, the recovering Everglades, the largest Arctic coral reef, the Salish Nation of the Pacific Northwest and Carti Sugdup, Panama.

“By featuring stories of resilience from shoreline communities around the world, we hope to inspire diverse ways of responding to our changing environment,” Miller says.

Shara Lange, associate professor and head of RTVF in the Department of Media and Communication, got to know Miller and her work during a recent non-instructional assignment in Canada.

“Besides being both important and beautiful, Miller's work is resonant for so many disciplines on campus, so I was really excited to have her come to ETSU,” says Lange, a fellow documentarian. “I was thrilled that we easily assembled a broad coalition who saw different ways her work, exhibit and campus visit would be valuable for students and community members.”

This melding of digital, interactive, educational and collaborative documentary styles, which resides online at http://theshorelineproject.org, makes the “The Shore Line Project” and its creator a unique experience to bring to the campus and the people of the region, says Anita DeAngelis, director of the Martin School of the Arts.

“It’s quite a bit different from what many people might think of when they hear the word ‘exhibition,’ ” DeAngelis says. “First, it’s digital. Second, a viewer can choose from the 43 videos how many they watch and hand-pick the locations. So, if they are from Vancouver, they might watch that one first. The way the exhibit will be organized will make it a very personal experience for each person.”

Miller developed a multi-faceted, collaborative model for “The Shore Line,” creating the short videos in classroom-size bites and working with students, journalists and non-profits to piece together one-page study guides. Videos were made in some cases with Miller as mentor and teacher, guiding young, budding co-directors in the differing communities, and in other instances by researcher/documenters in locations Miller herself could not reach.

Though ETSU is not near a coastal area, Miller says there’s still reason to be involved in “The Shore Line” effort and what she calls “environmental justice.” East Tennessee has lakes and rivers that connect communities and affect the region’s economy and its people’s health.

“The Tennessee River (in Knoxville) includes more than 40,000 square miles of watershed and 11,000 miles of shoreline,” she says. “That river supplies drinking water, it sustains habitats for native plants, it offers fishing and swimming and it also enables a lot of the trade that moves throughout the state.

“ ‘Shore Line’ is really intended to create a prompt, to follow the lead of our environment that has protected us for centuries. If we take better care of our natural resources, they will be there for us and they will be there to protect us in the future.

“Climate change,” Miller said, “is basically an issue that’s impacting all of us, and it’s an issue that going to ask us to think outside the box and to think beyond neighborhood, beyond nation, beyond ethnicities and to really think past our own sense of ‘I’m right’ or ‘You’re wrong.’ It’s really going to stretch our imaginations and how we resolve these large problems and collaborate across distances.”

For more information about the Martin School of the Arts, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-TKTS (8587).

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