Ben Kalina is an award-winning documentary producer and director whose work explores the colliding forces of human nature and environmental change. His first feature documentary, Shored Up, explored sea level rise and the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy as it ran headlong into unchecked coastal development. Shored Up won the 2014 Sundance Institute’s Lightstay Sustainability Award and was broadcast on DirecTV. He produced and directed the 2020 NOVA film Can We Cool the Planet?, which journeyed around the world to reveal technologies and nature-based solutions with the potential to counteract climate change. His in-progress feature doc Plan C for Civilization follows the scientist at the center of the controversial field of solar geoengineering, a technology designed to quickly cool a warming world. His other work-in-progress, The Refugees of Eastwick, tells the story of climate adaptation and environmental justice in Philadelphia, where generations of residents have struggled to chart their own destiny in the neighborhoods, parks and communities across the city.
Other projects include: Home: A Rockumentary, following a year in the life of a public middle school rock band in South Philadelphia, A River Reborn, chronicling the revival of a river in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania poisoned by chemicals from abandoned coal mines, and COP27 was a Rehearsal from the 2022 UN climate conference in Egypt.
In addition to his independent documentaries Ben produces a range of short films and videos through his company Mangrove Media, based in Philadelphia. Mangrove partners with organizations including The Nature Conservancy, PennEnvironment, and the National Wildlife Federation.
BA, American Studies, Vassar College, 1998
MFA, Film and Media Arts, Temple University, 2011
Graham, Kristen A., “Philly Elementary School Rockers Earn Ovations – and a New Documentary”, October 29, 2017
Quinn O’Callahan, “Guitar Hero”, The Philadelphia Citizen, January 26, 2017
Neil Genzlinger, “Build a Beach, Rinse, Repeat”, New York Times, November 29, 2013
Jeff Berkshire, “Shored Up”, Variety, December 13, 2013
Daphne Howland, “A Beautiful Look at How Seaboards are Destroyed in Shored Up”, Village Voice, November 27, 2013
Bryce Renninger, “Should Public Museums be Open to Controversial Films?” IndieWire, November 21, 2013
Scott Huler, “In NC, the Science Show Doesn’t Go On”, Scientific American, November 19, 2013
Erik Stokstad, “Science Museum Declines to Show Climate Change Film”, Science, November 22, 2013
John Anderson, “Documentaries Thrive in Sandy’s Ruins”, New York Times, February 1, 2013
Patrick Gavin, “Director: Climate Change Right Here”, Politico, June 18, 2013
My films don’t deliver tidy endings because reality suggests otherwise. We live our lives immersed in an ecosystem of uncertainty where swirling, complex technologies and the limitations of our physical environment create unrelenting change.
The stories that intrigue me are those that anticipate the collision of our desires and behaviors with the constraints of the natural world. I’m inspired by writers like John McPhee, who explore our interactions with the environment and the psychological, ideological and belief systems that shape society and increasingly, natural systems.
What drives us to continue to build towns and cities on shifting sands next to an ocean that we are whipping into a fury? Will we decide that our efforts to curb emissions have failed, and turn to risky technologies to save lives and ecosystems? Do we trust ourselves to make the “right” choices as we balance our needs and wants with their consequences? What exactly are those “right” choices...and do they even exist?
My films encourage a shared accountability to truth, balancing multiple and competing perspectives, factual rigor and a resistance to unearned catharsis. The denouement, for me, is an opportunity to shift responsibility to the viewer. Science is famous for both holding uncertainty and encouraging critical inquiry, and I like to think that my films reflect those principles as well.
Competitions and Awards
2019 Good Pitch US
2019 Hot Docs Pitch Forum
2018 Camden International Film Festival, Points North Institute
2016 Techniculture Award
2014 Sundance Institute/Hilton Hotels LightStay Institute Sustainability Award
2008 Best Student Film, New Jersey International Film Festival
2007 Eastman Kodak Scholars Award
2007 Best Fiction Film, Sehsuechte Film Festival, Potsdam, Germany
2007 Best Fiction Film, Diamond Screen Film Festival
2006 Benjamin Lazaroff Screenwriting Award
Plan C for Civilization, feature documentary
Shored Up, DirecTV, 86 minutes, 2013
HOME: A Rockumentary, WHYY Philadelphia, 55 minutes, 2017
Can We Cool the Planet?, NOVA/PBS, 53 minutes, 2020
Diorama, Grand Prize @ Seh Sehsuchte