Documentary tells story of communities lost

AIKEN --- It was 1951. The war in Europe and the Pacific had been over for six years, but another war was brewing, one of opposing ideologies.

Russia and the United States stood toe to toe with a growing arsenal of weapons at their backs, daring the other to blink.

Caught in the middle of the struggle were about 5,000 residents of several small towns in Aiken County, who, in the name of national defense, were forced to abandon their communities and the land their families had lived on for generations.

As the Cold War made its way to Aiken County, the federal government confiscated land and displaced whole towns to build one of the largest nuclear-weapons facilities in the world.

Local filmmaker Mark Albertin hopes to share that era with the world in his documentary Displaced -- The Unexpected Fallout from the Cold War.

"It's a story that needs to be told," he said.

Mr. Albertin said he got the idea for the film in 2005, while working on another project about Aiken County.

Cloistered inside a library, poring over old books and periodicals, the filmmaker came across references to Ellenton and Dunbarton, towns that no longer existed.

Intrigued, he did some more digging and realized he had the makings of another film.

For three years, the owner of Scapbook Video Productions in Augusta spent his weekends and vacations tracking down and interviewing more than 40 former residents of the towns that were demolished to make way for Savannah River Plant, now Savannah River Site.

Mr. Albertin said many of the people displaced were upset about the way the federal government handled the whole affair.

"They weren't really given a choice," he said. "If someone refused to leave, the government would just declare their home condemned."

But many residents, Mr. Albertin said, viewed their sacrifice as an act of patriotism -- something they could do to help the country win the Cold War.

The premiere of the 90-minute documentary will take place March 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the University of South Carolina Aiken's Etherredge Center.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.