The filmmaker’s work dives straight into Mill River

Documentary maker and author Steve Hamm presented his film ‘A River Speaks’ to the Cheshire Public Library last week for a program called ‘Saving the Mill River’. The Friends of Cheshire Public Library and the Coalition for a Sustainable Cheshire co-sponsored the April 11 event, which drew large crowds.

“I love the River Mill and I love Cheshire,” Hamm told attendees, pointing out that he and his family lived in the city for several years before moving to New Haven, their current home.

Hamm’s documentary opens with a view of the River Mill in winter; a quiet, rural scene. Crystal-clear waters bounce along rapids and flow between forested edges in an ever-widening channel as the river meanders through suburban and urban landscapes and empties into Long Island Sound.

From the first moments of the documentary – which Hamm recounts – you can almost hear the anguish in the filmmaker’s voice. “These incredible bodies are our sources of water, for drinking and growing, our playgrounds and our fishing holes. We write songs and poems about them. We love our rivers, but not enough,” says Hamm. “We use them as dumping grounds for human and industrial waste, our road salt, our lawn fertilizers. … Unfortunately, when we kill our rivers, we kill ourselves.”

Hamm’s film chronicles the important role the River Mill has played through time – from commerce to travel to recreation. And throughout the film, the voices of local residents, business owners, community leaders, environmental activists and conservationists are heard.

Nicole Davis, Save the Sound’s watershed coordinator, is one such voice.

“Honestly, the most important thing we can do to save the Mill River and protect the Mill River is to be mindful of what we are doing on land and to remember that we are connected to the river,” says Davis, adding that, when working in your garden, remember that “fertilizers and pesticides all end up going into the river”.

Yale professor Gabe Benoit is also featured in the film. He lives in New Haven, a few blocks from Mill River. “I row on it and walk along its banks with my dog,” he says. “There is a quote, ‘If there is magic on earth, it is contained in water.’ And I think that applies to the Mill River.

After the screening, Hamm answered questions from the audience, assisted by State Representative Mary Mushinsky (D-85), who is also the executive director of River Advocates of South-Central CT.

Hamm also spoke about his recent collaboration with an international collective made up of community and religious leaders, environmentalists, activists and scientists. The group, “The Pivot Project”, sees an opportunity for a global reset after the pandemic.

Hamm’s affiliation with the outfit resulted in his new book, “The Pivot”.

“The way we live is not sustainable and we really need to look in new directions to live in a more resilient and sustainable way, in balance with nature, but also in harmony with each other,” said Hamm.

Hamm’s overarching message to library audiences was that change at any level starts locally and that individuals and small groups can achieve a lot.

An example is the Coalition for a Sustainable Cheshire.

During the library program, Fiona Pearson, co-chair of the local group, spoke about her involvement in many Mill River projects.

Coalition members monitored bacteria levels in the river last summer with River Advocates of South-Central CT, and more recently participated in Winter Salt Watch, a national road salt awareness project with the Izaak Walton Conservation League.

Additionally, the Coalition for a Sustainable Cheshire partners with the Mill River Watershed Association, a community-based organization focused on promoting effective watershed management through conservation and restoration.

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