It started with a video capturing Hurricane Sandy in the midst of its ruinous path through Lower Manhattan. Pretty soon, though, filmmaker Casey Neistat got a chance to parlay his Frankenstorm footage into an opportunity to help those who bore the brunt of the storm.
"I was in New York City for September 11th and I was there for the 2003 blackout," Neistat says. "I think in hindsight, you get a real perspective as to how unique those moments of crisis are in a place like New York City. I was unable to even comprehend the magnitude of the storm, but mainly because I had the resources to get out there and capture it all, I went out with my camera."
The director’s studio is located in Tribeca, an area that eventually lost power, along with the rest of downtown Manhattan. Right there at his disposal, though, were all of his production company’s resources for documenting a weather catastrophe—including waterproof housing for a camera adept at shooting in low light. Additionally, because Neistat is a competitive endurance athlete and his younger brother, Dan, is a U.S. Air Force C-17 pilot, the two had inclement weather gear and other equipment ready to go.
"We were donning the most appropriate safety gear we could possibly pull together, and we both have training," Neistat says of the dangerous excursion he took with his brother, who helped film the video. "But at the same time, we were kind of like, 'Fuck it, we’re here: Let’s make sure we capture things that otherwise might go unseen.'"
The resulting video of the Neistat brothers’ four-hour exploration of Manhattan via bicycle shows a city not exactly caught off guard, but rather surprised to see things shaping up to be worse than anticipated. Water floods the streets and invades basement level doors into buildings. It buries fire hydrants and traps workers at the top of escalators. It is everywhere.
The video has since been viewed 1.3 million times. One of those viewers, apparently, is someone in charge of Al Gore’s Climate Project; Casey Neistat was offered a $500 licensing fee from the group to use footage of his video. At practically the same moment, former New York Ranger Sean Avery, a friend of Neistat’s who helped make the first video, called to describe the situation in Staten Island. Avery had been bringing pizzas to feed hungry hurricane victims on the outer borough, and he thought Neistat might want to film some of the damage out there. Staten Island was hit particularly hard, sustaining 19 of New York City’s 40 casualties. Flush with what he described as free money, the filmmaker decided to use his $500 to get as much clothing as possible to Staten Islanders in need.
Just as with the storm itself, Neistat knew Staten Island had been hit hard, but he had no idea how hard until he saw it for himself.
"I grew up in the Northeast; I’ve seen hurricanes before and trees down and cars destroyed. I was expecting to see destruction," Neistat says. "But I’ve never seen an entire home 800 feet from that home’s foundation. It’s incomprehensible to me how that could even happen."
With very little premeditation and a camera, Neistat set out to deliver hooded sweatshirts and -pants to some of the area’s many newly homeless residents. The second video, which you can watch above, is set to the downbeat strains of "Can It Be All So Simple," a song by Staten Island’s most public champions, Wu-Tang Clan, who long ago dubbed the borough Shaolin. Staten Island Hurricane Destruction shows the aforementioned house separated from its foundation, and other sights that make clear the damage’s extent. While Lower Manhattan’s power outage got a lot of publicity, the blow delivered to Staten Island and other areas of New York and New Jersey will take much more to recover from.
By going out to Staten Island loaded with donations, Neistat made a minor impact. The more people watch his video, however, perhaps the more will be inspired to heed the call for volunteer efforts, including donations of both money and blood. If you would like to help in the recovery, but are unsure where to start, here is a well-organized guide as of November 5th.