A Filmmaker's Watershed Productions

By C. Woodrow Irvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 4, 2006

David Eckert is passionate about water.

"We are water," he says. "I'm between 70 and 95 percent of the water I drink. That's me. And what's in that water is me. It permeates every cell in my body. Every neuron. How I think, how I act, how I see, how I feel -- everything."

Eckert is passionate about a lot of things. His love of local history and culture led him to found the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation in Falls Church to honor the work of the city's African American civil rights pioneers. His love of trees has led him to serve on the city's Tree Commission for the past 17 years.

In recent years, though, he has been captivated by filmmaking, directing five documentaries about the dangers facing local watersheds. A partner, Mike Hamilton, handled the photography and helped with editing, and Eckert also served as writer and producer. Eckert calls the films "The Watershed Quintilogy."

His newest, "On the Edge -- The Potomac River Dyke Marsh," examines the plight of the last major tidal marshland within view of the capital. The marsh, just south of Alexandria off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, is home to hundreds of species of plants, birds and other animals, some seen nowhere else in the Washington area. But because of human activity, the marsh has been reduced to a fraction of the size it was a century ago.

Eckert, who maintains that, despite his success, he doesn't consider himself a filmmaker, is a native of New York. He was working in California in the 1980s -- an experience he now prefers to call, without elaboration, "my time in corporate America" -- when he became homesick for the East Coast. He said he seized an opportunity to transfer to an office job in Tysons Corner and moved with his wife and young daughter to Falls Church in 1988.

A few years ago, when he turned 50, Eckert and his wife, Annette Mills, were discussing the next chapter of their lives. He had an urge to do something different, and Mills agreed that it was time that he left his job to pursue other interests while she took a turn as the family's main breadwinner.

Eckert began filling his newfound free time by stepping up the volunteer activities that had always interested him. One of those pursuits led to the first film.

"It was my wife's idea," Eckert said. He and his family were helping clean up the ailing Four Mile Run, an urban stream that runs east from Falls Church to the Potomac at Reagan National Airport.

"I was . . . so frustrated with the fact that nothing was happening to help revive it," Eckert said. Mills, the environmental coordinator for the City of Falls Church, suggested that he use the skills he had picked up working on some public-access television shows and get the word out about the stream and its problems.

"I was supposed to take three months to make it," Eckert said. "It totally absorbed my life, because I didn't know anything about really making a film." It took 16 months to complete.

During the film's creation, Eckert said he "met a lot of people and galvanized a lot of support" for the stream's restoration.

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