Duke grads keeping history alive as Riverside moves forward

02/18/2016 8:45 AM |

Duke University graduates

One question is often posed to Lauren Henschel and Isabel Dover.

How do two recent Duke University graduates — one from Miami (Ms. Henschel) and the other from Boston (Ms. Dover) — with no connection to the East End end up filming a documentary about an area often overlooked even by those who live nearby?

“We get that question a lot,” Ms. Dover said with a laugh. “People are like, ‘What are you doing here?’

In Riverside, Ms. Henschel, 23, and Ms. Dover, 22, found a once-vibrant hamlet with a rich history of untold stories and community members eager to share them. After beginning the project this past summer, they returned to the North Fork this week to continue filming their untitled documentary, which they estimate will take another year or so to complete.

“These stories of the past — these oral histories — haven’t ever really been told,” Ms. Henschel said. “It was an incredible thing to kind of stumble upon.”

The pair’s exploration of Riverside comes at a unique time in the distressed hamlet’s history. Southampton Town hired planner and developer Renaissance Downtowns in early 2014 to create a redevelopment proposal that has since become known as Riverside Rediscovered. The town approved the for-profit company’s action plan two months ago as the project pushes forward.

Siris Barrios, a community liaison for the redevelopment effort, has been instrumental in helping the women coordinate interviews for the film. She summed up the community’s response to the filmmakers in one word: “Excitement.”

“It’s a great story about a place that’s been in economic decline and that, hopefully with this development, we’re going to see rise,” she said. “And we’re going to see it rise in a way that’s authentic and connected to the community that lives here.”

A gas station on Flanders Road just east of the Peconic Avenue traffic circle has remained vacant for several years. Town leaders are hoping that parcel, along with many others, will be redeveloped with assistance from a private developer. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A gas station on Flanders Road just east of the Peconic Avenue traffic circle has remained vacant for several years. Town leaders are hoping that parcel, along with many others, will be redeveloped with assistance from a private developer. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Ms. Henschel and Ms. Dover met as freshmen at Duke and eventually became close friends. Ms. Henschel said she was drawn to the school’s “incredible” documentary program; Ms. Dover studied history with a focus on civil rights and the history of race and minorities in America. Ms. Dover helped Ms. Henschel with her senior thesis documentary and the pair quickly realized their work styles were complementary.

“We couldn’t be more different in terms of the way our brains work,” Ms. Henschel said. “It kind of allows us to check in with each other.”

The pair often joked about collaborating on a project, and as their friends applied for jobs toward the end of college, they decided to take that leap and make a documentary. They applied for grants and received funding to travel to Peru after graduation, where they began documenting the story of a Miami woman who had left her family behind in Peru years earlier. Ms. Henschel and Ms. Dover followed the woman back to her native country for a story about immigration and how it affects a family.

Ms. Henschel was doing freelance work for a video company on the East End this past summer when she learned about Riverside. She called Ms. Dover to say she thought she’d stumbled upon a great story.

“Lauren explained to me about the Riverside area and some of the people she had met there and some of the families she had spoken to,” Ms. Dover said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is right up my alley.’

And just like that, the women were on the cusp of starting a second project. They have since conducted numerous on-camera interviews with Riverside residents, including Robert “Bubbie” Brown and David Peter Fitzgerald.

As part of the Riverside redevelopment effort, Ms. Barrios said, her group conducted a handful of interviews with residents to better understand the hamlet’s history. But compared to what Ms. Henschel and Ms. Dover are planning, they only scratched the surface.

Hy-Way 24 restaurant, which opened in 1973 on Flanders Road, is now the site of the Mexican eatery El Mariachi. (Credit: David Peter Fitzgerald)

Hy-Way 24 restaurant, which opened in 1973 on Flanders Road, is now the site of the Mexican eatery El Mariachi. (Credit: David Peter Fitzgerald)

“Sometimes areas get revitalized and the history of the communities get buried,” Ms. Barrios said. “They’re helping to rescue a lot of rich history about this community — the African-American community, the Native American community.”

The women are staying at a family friend’s house in Cutchogue while they work on the Riverside project. When the production stage is completed, they plan to set up in Durham, N.C., to begin the long editing process.

When the film is finished — likely not until the end of this year or early 2017 — they plan to screen it in Riverside. As for wider distribution, Ms. Henschel and Ms. Dover are learning on the fly and hope to eventually find the right fit with a production company or TV network.

“This all started with just an idea in our head,” Ms. Dover said. “It’s really kind of turned into this huge thing I don’t think either of us expected. We’re so thankful for it because we’ve been on this incredible journey.”

[email protected]


Find out more:

To learn more about the documentary, visit theshareddivide.com. To share a story with the filmmakers, email them at [email protected].


Top photo: Documentary filmmakers Isabel Dover (left) and Lauren Henschel hope to finish a film about the Riverside hamlet by early next year. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

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