DVD Review Of Ribbon of Sand

Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 1/4/10


  Look no further to find the story of the earth than in John Grabowska’s twenty-five minute documentary Ribbon Sand, which is about Cape Lookout—one of the few natural barrier islands still remaining on earth. Located off the shores of North Carolina, the sixty miles of terrain consists of sand uninhabited by humans, but lush with life. Following his earlier work, Crown of the Continent, Grabowska once again teams up with photographer Steve Ruth and composer Todd Boekelheide to deliver another poetic experience and offer up the earth’s ecosystem as examples of our planet’s larger canvas.

  Referring to the shores of North Carolina as the “graveyard of the Atlantic, land of lighthouses and legendary storms,” moments of artful photography are narrated by these wonderful moments of poetry, making Ribbon of Sand yet another stunning visual interpretation of our natural world, and showing that artistry doesn’t wade too far from the shore. Some memorable moments include a shot of fiddler crabs lingering upon the beach, and this, combined with Boekelheide’s score, offers a funny moment where the crabs appear to be dancing to the music. Shorelines are illuminated by moon and sun as the crumbling sea meets estuary, and then, we are shown a line in the sand made by a blade of salt grass—an innocent gesture easily overlooked by the unobservant.

  The film does a great job mixing both the intimate and personal, such as in those examples listed, with that of a more canvas-like approach, where the camera is then pulled back and viewers are left looming over the Outer Banks, similar to the final shot of Wrangell St. Elias in Crown of the Continent. Although though both films carry similarities in their artistic approach, Ribbon of Sand is not a repetition of Grabowska’s earlier film, where he becomes a character in Crown of the Continent, telling us of his youth and trips to Alaska with his father. Rather, in Ribbon of Sand, there are voiceover narrations by Meryl Streep, as she delivers the words of Rachel Carson—the nature writer and marine biologist to whom the film happens to be dedicated.

  Viewers are also taken beneath the sea, where we witness a combination of corals and varying sea life. In having watched Ken Burns’ much publicized nature documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, it is important to note how these two filmmakers differ. Burns offers a historical perspective, and doesn’t deviate terribly far from humankind. He is equivalent to a non-fiction prose writer in his documentary style, where as Grabowska is a poet. Grabowska’s films grant us the experience of having the Universal Eye or as what Emerson refers to as the Transparent Eyeball, where we can imagine what it would be like to witness the world without bias and without apology.

It is within this Ribbon of Sandnot quite land, not quite sea, where we can find that universal place of in between.

  Read more about the film and how to purchase here: http://www.pbs.org/ribbonofsand/.


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Examiner.com website.]


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