The Nigerian School Project: The Film


Tonight at Dawn and our crew are working on the third phase of filming for The Nigerian School Project documentary. Here are some images from filming at founder of The Nigerian School Project Dena Grushkin’s home with the talented Michael Scotti and Neil Grabowsky (Jersey Nerds). Kickstarter video coming soon!





Stronger Than the Ocean?

Text & Photos by K. Cecchini

If going down the shore is a rite of passage in New Jersey, then owning a piece of it is a dream. So how do you convince homeowners to return their seaside fantasy to Mother Nature before she sends the repo man?

The Jersey Shore After Hurricane Sandy
Stairs separated from a boardwalk on the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy was the most devastating storm to lick away at beach front zip codes since 1962 from the Highlands to Cape May. With its winds and rains, Sandy also brought questions about the Jersey Shore’s future. And, although many homeowners rally to rebuild, Dr. Ben Horton of Rutgers University’s Marine and Coastal Sciences Department warned that the Jersey Shore’s vulnerabilities are increasing.

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated a global mean sea level rise of over three feet by the end of the century. This change will largely be due to the greater volume of a warming ocean and melting glaciers. However, Dr. Horton said, sea level change is not uniform and New Jersey has other factors biting at its shoreline.

For instance, most of the shore’s real estate is low-lying and Dr. Horton said that the land’s height continues to decrease because of freshwater removal below the land’s surface. This allows the sea to overtake more of the land.

Of course, there are many ways to mitigate the impact. In response to Sandy, Governor Chris Christie called for sand dune construction and the nourishing of beaches with additional sand. 
But John A. Miller of the New Jersey Association for Flood Management (NJAFM) warned that these efforts are only a short term fix; he said it’s “a speed bump for energy coming off the ocean”. Furthermore, in municipalities like Sea Bright which has the Shrewsbury River on its western border, Miller said, “it doesn’t matter how big the sea wall is, it doesn’t matter how big the dune is, it doesn’t matter what width the beach nourishment is, the water’s going to flank the town.”

On the other hand, Mr. Miller said he was pleased at how well Governor Christie implemented NJAFM’s recommendations around the Raritan and Passaic Basins.

The first recommendation? Blue Acres.

Miller calls the voluntary Blue Acres program “a restart on life”. Through federal and local fund matching, Blue Acres offers to buy property in flood zones at pre-damage value. The land is then designated as a natural buffer for their communities in future flooding. Although it can be a difficult choice for most homeowners, the program has proven to be particularly successful in river communities. In fact, Miller hailed Mayor Verango and Consultant Jeff Ward for having made Wayne Township “the champion for buyouts in New Jersey”.

After Sandy, the state successfully promoted buyouts in inland towns like Woodbridge and most recently, Manville, but the program is still virtually nonexistent in coastal communities. Why perpetuate temporary fixes like sand dunes instead of removing people from vulnerable areas? Miller said that he believed the reason the state administration avoids the coastline is because of its perceived economic value as a vacation and investment community.

However, Blue Acres‘ Communication Director Andrea Friedman said that she believes that for the last two years while some seaside homeowners are interested, their municipalities have resisted the program. Union Beach is one such town; Sandy flooded more than half of its 2,200 homes and some families have yet to return, but Blue Acreshas made no inroads.

On April 8th, (name of publication) spoke with Union Beach Mayor Paul Smith, after Governor Christie and Army Corp of Engineer officers delivered news that they would be fulfilling Union Beach’s 20 year old request with a $202 million network of safeguards that includes levees, pump stations, dunes, beach nourishment and much larger flood gates. The elated Mayor said of the project, “I think this is truly going to help people make their decision to come back home.”
When it comes to Blue Acres, Smith said that he would support the program in his bedroom community “if it helps people get back on their feet”.
Then why have Union Beach homeowners not been able to opt for it? The mayor contends, with residents, that he has considered it but tells them that “they’re not going to buy your home, they want the whole block” so Union Beach has not made use of the program.
A major factor in rejecting Blue Acres, according to Friedman, is that governments are concerned that they will lose tax revenue if the compromised properties are sold back to the state and Mayor Smith confirmed the fear, “in a small town like ours, we really can’t afford to lose those (blocks of homes), their revenue.”
But NJAFM’s Miller disagrees. He thinks these properties may actually be revenue negative, “The services provided and the risk to first responders and debris removal and all the costs around these chronically flooded properties are increasing all the time with climate changes.”.
So is Blue Acres revenue positive or revenue negative? The Regional Plan Association is now studying the economic and health impacts of buyouts. In the meantime, another flood could change minds. Miller, who emphasized that he has no desire to see more flooding, calls it “giving people religion”.

Are buyouts a ‘managed retreat’? They are often denigrated with this defeatist connotation; it’s something most Americans would call ‘un-American’. But Jerseyians might not take that for an answer. Perhaps handing the keys over to Mother Nature before she takes them is really ‘Jersey Strong’.

Fuller, Green and Yo La Tengo

Written by Kimberly Cecchini

(Text reposted from the Montclair Film Festival site: Sunday, May 10)

Photo: Kimberly Cecchini for the Montclair Film Festival

Thursday night’s headline for the Montclair Film Festival was a film event that fit its subject; it was larger than life and totally outside of the box. The live documentary screened at the Wellmont Theatre was a tribute to R. Buckminster Fuller, who according to a television host, had been called a “genius”, “the Benjamin Franklin of the space age” and a “crackpot”.

Writer Sam Green Photo by Kimberly Cecchini for the Montclair Film Festival

Director and producer Sam Green narrated a series of clips and stills from the late Fuller’s archive in harmony with indie band Yo La Tengo’s original live soundtrack. From the other end of the stage, the music’s tone alternated between foreboding, hopeful, eerie and Space Odyssey-esque to follow the rhythmic loop of triumphs and failures that made up Fuller’s life.

In a soft, bedtime story voice, Green took the audience on a trip of the architect, inventor and author’s life with a mixture of humor, empathy and a bit of reverence. Green also smoothly went off script and reminded the audience that it was a live performance with a “bless you” to a sneezing ticket holder.


On script, Green first marveled at the expanse of Fuller’s archives; there is a wealth of telegrams, letters, photos, blueprints and anything else that “crossed his desk”. The audience laughed as Green gestured towards an image of Fuller’s Social Security card and grinned, “I love this s**t!”

Fuller’s life began ordinarily enough; he married in 1917 and had children. However, a series of misfortunes led him to the brink of suicide. Legend says “a voice told him he couldn’t take his own life, that he had to dedicate his life to humanity instead”. And, Green added, “In some versions of his story, he even levitated”.


Whatever happened in that mythologically tinted turning point, Fuller heeded the voice. He initiated his own design revolution with the creed of today’s environmental conservationists, “do more with less”. By applying this philosophy to invention, Fuller believed that peace would be created as humanity could circumvent fights over resources.

To illustrate Fuller’s vision, Green shared a number of his sketches and prototypes. Fuller dubbed many of these ideas with a blend of the words, “dynamic, maximum and tension;”: dymaxion.

Perhaps Fuller’s own term was the most apt title for his designs. After discussing Fuller’s futuristic car and mass produced house concept (both of which “went down the drain”), Green placed his most famous invention in context, “Alexander Graham Bell got a phone, Thomas Edison, the lightbulb, with Buckminster Fuller, its the geo . . . dome– he’s the dome guy”.

Yo La Tengo Performing. Photo: Kimberly Cecchini or the Montclair Film Festival
Yo La Tengo Performing. Photo: Kimberly Cecchini or the Montclair Film Festival


It was his first success. In the 1950s his dome plans were used for botanical gardens, aquariums, radar stations, churches, and, of course, Fuller’s home. Green identified this success as another turning point, “he was no longer a fringe figure”. Yo La Tengo highlighted that transition with strains of hope.

“Opposite of Soundbites”

In from the fringes, the “huge egomaniac” was pictured on a 1960s Time magazine cover and became a lecture staple. When it came to lectures, though, less was not more.

Not only did Green credit Fuller as “the most impossible person to edit I’ve ever come across” because he spoke in “the opposite of soundbites,” but he also shared that one of Fuller’s lecture series was entitled “Everything I Know”.

At 42 hours, that title might actually be the opposite of hyperbole.

Was R. Buckminster Fuller a genius or a crackpot? Or perhaps a bit of both? However you slice it, Sam Green’s project is fitting for either personas.

See more information about the Montclair Film Festival and all its great events at the Montclair Film Festival page. View more photos at the MontclairFilmFest Flickr.

Christie Brings Good Tidings to Union Beach

Photo from, Union Beach Home after Hurricane Sandy
Photo from, Union Beach Home after Hurricane Sandy

Text by K. Cecchini/Photo from

Mayor Paul Smith said Hurricane Sandy was “…like a tsunami; it came in, it kicked ass and then left in 45 minutes”.  He believes it flooded at least 50% of Union Beach’s 2,200 homes and the Asbury Park Press reported that as many as 85% of its homes were affected.

As part of my research on the Jersey Shore’s vulnerabilities and disaster mitigation options, I had the fortune to speak with the elated mayor after Governor Christie and ranking Army Corp of Engineer members delivered affirmative news on a shore protection project. The bedroom community has waited 20 years for implementation, and now they can expect its completion in 2020.

Hopefully the program will be the fix Union Beach needs because, as I said to the mayor, you can’t fight nature. He laughed, “(Governor Christie) mentioned that also”.

Please look for an extended piece on the Jersey Shore. In the meantime, we would love your input:

What do you think about post-Sandy efforts along the Mid-Atlantic?

What is the future of our Jersey Shore?

Can’t Afford the Germs

Text by K. Cecchini

Some people literally can’t afford to get sick. In the United States, workers are not guaranteed sick days and, therefore many workers – particularly lower wage workers – do not get paid if they are out sick or tending to an ill relative.

Grass roots organization, New Jersey Working Families, is leading the charge to change this situation for workers in Montclair. On Tuesday, November 4th, Montclair residents will have an opportunity to vote for the municipal public question to guarantee paid sick days for employees within the town.

According to Working Families, if the proposal becomes law, workers in businesses with more than 10 employees or those of any size, for the interest of public health, who serve food, work in day care and nursing can earn 5 sick days a year and workers in smaller businesses can earn 3 sick days a year.

Perhaps this is a small step towards relieving some stress for workers? What do you think?