In 'Ribbon of Sand,' A Certain Outer Beauty

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

For an edition of the Environmental Film Festival that coincides with the 100th anniversary of Rachel Carson's birth, it's fitting that Carson play leading and cameo roles throughout the series. Filmgoers with a lunch hour to spare on Friday won't want to miss Meryl Streep reading some of Carson's most moving and lyrical writings in the short film "Ribbon of Sand."

Produced by the National Park Service to play at the visitor center of Cape Lookout National Seashore, "Ribbon of Sand" takes both an intimate and sweeping look at the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

As "Ribbon of Sand" so dramatically reveals, this isn't the OBX of bumper stickers and summer shares. Barely touched by human presence, this is what a 16th-century sea captain dubbed the "promontorium tremendum" (horrible headland), a place of grandeur, destruction, solitude and mystical beauty. Cape Lookout is a virtually pristine example of the world's great shorelines, where, as Streep quotes Carson, "the rhythm of breathing begins imperceptibly to match that of the surf."

Written and directed by Park Service filmmaker John Grabowska and photographed by Steve Ruth, the film portrays a delicate dance of survival and subsidence, as flora, fauna, wind and water make their presence felt. Oh, and then there are humans, and the "anthroposphere" they create each time they alter an ecosystem.

Ruth's photography, Grabowska's sensitive and occasionally witty editing (a wonderful montage of single-cell algae resembles a kid's kaleidoscope) and Todd Boekelheide's sweeping musical score conspire to make "Ribbon of Sand" a film far more poetic than its pay scale. But Streep is the understated star of the show, her fluting voice flawlessly modulated to Carson's dual sense of drama and practicality. As Carson so presciently suggested half a century ago, "The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."

Ribbon of Sand (26 minutes) will be shown at noon Friday at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.

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