Jon Bowermaster isn’t into being famous, particularly. After a couple of decades as a world adventurer, author and filmmaker who documented Antarctica and other far-flung parts of our ocean planet on National Geographic expeditions, the Stone Ridge resident told Ulster Publishing that he had had decided that he “didn’t want to be ‘that kayak guy’ anymore.” He simply wants to save the world’s waterways – and these days, mostly the ones closest to home.
Nor does Bowermaster baldly exploit his status as rock star Natalie Merchant’s Significant Other, or his friendship with actor Mark Ruffalo that developed on the anti-fracking public speaking circuit (though the celebrity appearances in his films Dear Governor Cuomo and Dear President Obama certainly must have helped him get them widely screened). He keeps a low personal profile and helps his more visible friends and family protect their privacy. But when it comes to corporate and political threats to the natural environment, Jon Bowermaster gets fiercely motivated.
“I’ve spent years making films about the relationship between man and water around the world, but I always wanted to do something about the Hudson River,” he told us in 2016, as his production company, Oceans 8 Films, was marketing a new video-magazine-format series titled The Hudson: A River at Risk. Viewable online at www.hudsonriverstories.com, these mini-documentaries examine such incendiary issues as the incomplete cleanup of PCBs from the Hudson riverbed, “bomb trains” carrying Bakken crude oil across New York State, the proposed Pilgrim Pipelines, leaks and lax security at the Indian Point nuclear plant, the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project and proposals to anchor gigantic barges indefinitely in Hudson River port towns and to build huge high-voltage transmission lines through the Hudson Valley.
Bowermaster isn’t having any of it. His films examine how these situations came to be, what dangers they pose, who’s pushing them or impeding reform. Most of all, his mission is to empower viewers to take action: Every segment ends with contact information for decisionmakers who need to hear public opinion on these projects, and with suggestions as to what people can do in their own communities to spark positive change. “I hate documentaries that bum you out,” he said.
Accordingly, his new series currently in production, Hudson River Stories: Hope on the Hudson, accentuates the positive, calling attention to organizations and individuals who are making a difference on environmental issues in the Hudson Valley. Already completed are two segments: City on the Water, which documents citizen action to rescue and protect the 520 miles of waterways that surround New York City, and Restoring the Clearwater, in which Bowermaster’s crew spent a full year following the master craftsmen who were rebuilding the sloop Clearwater, flagship of the decades-long campaign to clean up the Hudson and reconnect people to it.
Since much of the latter film was shot at the Clearwater’s winter berth, the Kingston Home Port and Education Center on the Rondout waterfront, it’s most appropriate that the Hudson River Maritime Museum, right next door, is sponsoring the first stop in a public screening tour for the new works. “Hope on the Hudson: New Films from Jon Bowermaster” begins at 4 p.m. this Saturday, September 9 in the Education Center. A panel discussion moderated by Jon Bowermaster, including representatives of organizations working toward a sustainable future for the Hudson Valley, will follow the screening. Come early, at 2 p.m., if you want to catch up on the earlier segments on the River at Risk series.
Admission to these programs is by a suggested donation of $5, payable at the door. The Hudson River Maritime Museum/Kingston Home Port and Education Center are located at 50 Rondout Landing.
Hope on the Hudson: New Films from Jon Bowermaster, Saturday, September 9, 4-6 p.m., $5 suggested, Kingston Home Port & Education Center, 50 Rondout Landing, Kingston; www.hudsonriverstories.com.