THE DOCUMENTARY "Conscience Point"
WHEN|WHERE Monday at 10:30 p.m. on WNET/13
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Ask just about anyone to describe the Hamptons and you'll likely get a range of responses: A summer getaway colony for the rich, a vintner's paradise, a yacht spot, a playground for upper-income nightclubbers.But the Hamptons are also the ancestral home of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, whose 800-acre reservation lies within the geographical bounds of Southampton. Golfers know the tribe as the namesake of the nearby Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, voted the third most exclusive private golf club in the country by Forbes magazine last year.
It's a case of irony in plain sight: A reservation where roughly half the people live below the poverty line, smack in the middle of a wealthy zip code that once belonged to them. Treva Wurmfeld's documentary "Conscience Point" examines this economic disparity and historical injustice through the eyes of Shinnecock members as they attempt to protect ancestral burial grounds in a fast-developing enclave of Long Island.
MY SAY Named for the rock that marks the founding of Southampton in 1640, "Conscience Point" is a small-scale documentary about some very big issues. One is the clash between legitimate developers trying to turn a profit and native Americans with a historical claim to the land. Another is the effect of development on local farmers and oystermen, whose resources are dwindling and whose costs of living are rising. Still another is the future of a town whose widening income gap — between increasingly wealthy residents and the service-sector workers who can't afford to live there — looks like the country in microcosm.
To delve deeply into all these issues is beyond the scope of a film that lasts a little over an hour, so Wurmfeld focuses primarily on the Shinnecock, in particular Rebecca Hill-Genia, an activist in her early 60s. Dogged, stubborn and outspoken, Hill-Genia makes herself a thorn in the town's side, protesting the U.S. Open at the Shinnecock Hills club — said to be built atop native American graves —and showing up at town hall meetings to badger local officials into returning land to her tribe.
What she's up against is a combination of vested interests and widespread indifference. In one scene, Hill-Genia is staging her golf-club protest when a white woman in oversized shades and a sun-washed blouse drives up to talk. She's friendly and sympathetic. "I'm with you," the woman says, but we get the feeling that's as far as her support will go.
"Conscience Point" occasionally wants for dramatic visuals, which aren't exactly built into the process-driven subject of land rights. Where the movie excels is in its examination of symbolism and iconography. There's something undeniably distasteful about the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club's stereotypical Indian-head logo, featuring a feathered headdress, arrow and decidedly non-native nine-iron. Likewise, viewed through Shinnecock eyes, the pilgrim who graces the Southampton Town Hall seal is a symbol not of discovery but of loss. Corey Dolgan, a Long Island-raised sociologist and author of "The End of the Hamptons: Scenes from the Class Struggle in America’s Paradise," weighs in with some astute observations about how colonial architecture tends to erase and replace the previously existing populace.
Though Wurmfeld's film is modest in scope, it's a worthwhile place to start discussing some of the darker aspects of American history.
BOTTOM LINE A solid documentary in which a Long Island culture-clash opens a window onto larger issues.