Ellenton lives again in film

The streets of Ellenton, S.C., or what's left of them, are difficult to find. Crumbling and covered by 50 years' worth of leaves, growth and pine straw, they become fainter each year. The same can be said for traces of the once-thriving town's businesses, schools and homes. All that's left are broken driveways to nowhere.


What has survived since residents were moved in the early 1950s to make room for Savannah River Plant are the ties that continue to bind the people of Ellenton, Dunbarton, Meyers Mill and the other small towns and villages abandoned in the name of Cold War progress.

It's a sense of community Mark Albertin finds inspiring.

Mr. Albertin recently completed production on Displaced: The Unexpected Fallout from the Cold War . The documentary traces the history of the communities displaced by the construction of the "bomb plant" in the early 1950s. Mr. Albertin, who will premiere the film tonight at the University of South Carolina Aiken, said the project appealed to him because the communities serve as a microcosm for the changes that affected the United Sates during the early years of the Cold War.

"After World War II, we found ourselves in a very different, very modern world," he said.

TODAY, ELLENTON is marked by a simple sign on the highway that bisects Savannah River Site. Mr. Albertin said he was inspired to make the movie because he thought a population of nearly 6,000 deserved more than a metal marker.

"There was a real sense of urgency," he said. "This was over 50 years ago, and I wondered how long it would be before people just drove by that sign and not really know what that meant."

Over the course of more than three years, Mr. Albertin assembled footage and photographs of the displaced communities and interviewed more than 40 former residents. He said he was surprised to discover that even after 50 years, former residents still consider the abandoned towns home.

"It's funny, because when I heard the first story, I thought perhaps there was some exaggeration," he said. "But then I heard the same things from another person, and another, and another. I quickly realized that this was not a case of everyone being overly emotional. Bad things happened. The government at the time did not handle the situation correctly."

THE CHALLENGE in assembling the film for Mr. Albertin was in editing it. He said it was difficult for him to remain objective during the process and he found cuts extremely painful.

"There were people that I just couldn't use. ... I have at least five hours of documentary material left, material I just couldn't weave into the fabric of the film."

Mr. Albertin, a multimedia producer for Morris Visitor Publications in Augusta, said being welcomed into homes, into the annual reunions held by former residents of both Ellenton and Dunbarton, meant more than spending a few hours collecting stories. It meant becoming part of the community and serving as a witness.

"Those reunions, they are really all they have left, in terms of community," he said. "That's the way they keep in touch, keep those places alive. They come together and repeat those stories. It's important to them and it became important to me."

"This documentary is a eulogy -- a eulogy for a place that once was."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


WHAT: Displaced: The Unexpected fallout from the Cold War

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today

WHERE: The Etherredge Center, University of South Carolina Aiken.

COST: Free

FOR MORE: www.displaced.us