Over six months of reporting, "Greywater" exposes a story often ignored – food insecurity among New York City's most vulnerable immigrant communities. The New Yorker set out to investigate a poaching ring and discovered a tangle of environmental-justice issues in the New York City waterway. The trade magazine Screen Comment wrote: "The New Yorker’s resident filmmaker, Daniel Lombroso, whose camera often exposes pieces of Gotham life often left untouched, uncovers far more about the poachers than might be anticipated. Their desperation outweighs any trepidation at consuming tainted food, or potential fear of being outed by environmentalists." "Greywater" was a challenging project to produce. Lombroso staked out a wildlife refuge at night over three months to capture his rare documentation; faced a language barrier in communicating with the largely Mandarin-speaking fisherman; and encountered a Department of Environmental Conservation that preferred to criminalise the issue rather than cooperate in a story (they eventually agreed to go on-record after months of attempts). The reporter and producer Yifan Yu joined the “Greywater” effort to humanize the crabbers’ experiences, relaying their views in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Fuzhounese. The fishermen were caught in a double bind: food insecurity led them to do their collecting out of sight and on the edge of the law; and, when local activists approached the crabbers, it wasn’t clear whether their intention was to give information about health risks or get them into trouble. In “Greywater,” the N.Y.U. epidemiologist Stella Yi offers context not only for her academic expertise but to speak of the pain felt by many New Yorkers with Asian heritage whose poverty and disenfranchisement are overlooked. “There are huge sections of the community that are living on the fringes. The food-insecurity problem in the Chinese lower-income community is a problem,” she says. And it’s no coincidence that more people have been collecting food from the contaminated bay during the pandemic. Hunting has surged, and this survival strategy has tilted into poaching in places around the globe. “That is what happens when there are all these holes in the social-support system in this country, where people like that have to live outside and go into the fringes, to just survive.” Ultimately, "Greywater" is a spotlight on an issue of environmental justice that many would prefer to tune out.
Daniel Lombroso is a director and journalist. His debut feature film, WHITE NOISE, based on his four years reporting inside the alt-right, premiered in 2020 to critical acclaim. It was named one of the top documentaries of the year by Vox and The Boston Globe. His latest short, AMERICAN SCAR, received an Honourable Mention for the Grand Jury Prize at DocNYC. Lombroso has been interviewed about his work in Variety, Vox, NPR, and Filmmaker Magazine, and has been awarded five Vimeo Staff Picks. He is the Senior Producer for video at The New Yorker, after five years at The Atlantic.