‘High Tide in Dorchester’ debuts March 9

The film team of Horton and Harp is well known in this county. It seems like every month, you can see their names on MPT, or Delmarva Outdoors, crediting them with production of a short film on some aspect of the Eastern Shore’s waterline.

The team, writer Tom Horton and photographer Dave Harp, and filmmaker Sandy Cannon Brown, in 2016 raised their game with a look back at William W. Warner’s 1976 book about crabs, watermen, and the Chesapeake Bay, in a film they called Beautiful Swimmers Revisited. The team’s gorgeously filmed tribute reawakened interest in the book, and painted a hyper-local picture to go with Warner’s original prose.

On March 9, the trio will release their latest effort, a film sure to open a discussion of what is going to become of Dorchester County. High Tide in Dorchester will be shown in what Horton and Harp are calling a local preview at 447 Race St. in Cambridge, in advance of the official premiere to be held in Washington, D.C. The advance viewing will be sponsored by Horn Point Lab and the Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth. We caught up to Mr.’s Horton and Harp after seeing a short trailer of the film online, and talked to them about their latest effort. While Beautiful Swimmers Revisited paid attention to the Eastern Shore in general and Dorchester in parts, High Tide is aimed directly at our county, and paints a dire picture of what will happen here if sea level rise continues at its current pace.

“We made a decision early on to be hyper-local, to focus on Dorchester,” said Tom Horton, “because Dave and I have talked for years about there’s two ground zeros on the Chesapeake, where you can see the impacts of sea level rise now. One is Dorchester, and the other would be north of it. We know Dorchester, so it’s a hyper-local attempt to show the impact right here, right now, in a local area.”

We asked what the gist of the film was.

“When I started noodling around, looking at the sea level rise projection for 2100, Dorchester is the fourth biggest county of Maryland’s 23 right now by land area,” Mr. Horton said. “It’s actually the biggest county if you include water, but it’s going to go from number four to number 14 by the end of this century. No other county is going to change remotely as much. (From fourth largest to 14th) — That’s a big damn change. We could lose half the county’s land by 2100. You can see it, it’s starting now. So that was kind of … yeah, we’ve gotta show this.”

“I think our goal with this film is to let it be known that this is a problem, this is something that we should be thinking about now,” added Dave Harp. “We should be planning. What do we do about it? Near term you can raise your houses up, you can build dikes, you can increase the level of the roads. There are a lot of things that can be done if you plan … If county government and state government plans for all this. It’ll be fine for a while. Long term is orderly retreat, as we call it in the film. By the end of the century, that’s where we’ll probably be.”

The situation in Dorchester is graphically illustrated by animated computer maps created by Ming Li, of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. His maps show a timeline progression of Dorchester’s land mass being inundated over the next hundred years, and the outlook is sobering.

“We knew of Ming,” said Dave Harp, “and we knew we wanted to talk to him. But we were well into the film and he showed us that graphic that started in 2017 and went up to 2100, giving data points of water rising … what Dorchester would look like. It scares the hell out of you when you look at it. It made a very strong point in the film, to say the least.”

“I think one of the things I hope we sort out in this film is sea level rise versus erosion,” said Mr. Horton. “Erosion has been going on since the bay was formed. If sea level were dropping, we’d still have erosion. It’s not an either or thing. People talk about erosion because you can see erosion, you can see it almost weekly in certain places. Sea level rise you don’t see, it doesn’t happen that fast. But as sea level rises, erosion gets worse. A lot of people are saying, ‘Yeah it seems like the erosion’s worse, yeah I don’t know about sea level rise, I don’t know about the land sinking, but I can tell you the tide is over the land more than it was 10 years ago.’”

The film presents a stark subject to the viewer, but does it in a beautiful, cinematographic way that reveals a real love for the Dorchester County shoreline.

“One thing that we wanted to do, certainly as a photographer, and now as a cinematographer, is to show the beauty,” Mr. Harp told us. “Tom and I, we’ve done five books together, and every one of them has Dorchester as all or part of it.”

“We often say if we weren’t doing a book or a movie, we’d be out here anyway,” added Mr. Horton. “We might as well try to get something out of it.”

“We wanted to show the beauty of this place that we really love” continued Dave Harp. “To me, that’s the dichotomy. Yes, it’s a gorgeous place, enjoy it while you can, and let’s do what we can to stay here as long as we can.”

Two local previews of High Tide in Dorchester are available to local residents. A free preview will be held tonight at Salisbury University at 7 p.m., and on March 9 at 447 Race in Cambridge as a benefit for the Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth. The world premiere will be at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington D.C. on March 22.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.