Reconstructing a Floodfight
A letter from the NOVA Producer
Hear the flood (250k, aiff)
Our work on "FLOOD!" began in the winter of 1994, more than a year after the
Great Flood of 1993 left a wake of destruction across a nine-state region in
the midwest. Having filmed nothing of the disaster ourselves, we knew we would
have to rely entirely on existing stock footage to capture the drama and
devastation of the most costly flood in US recorded history.
We were confident we would find the images we needed for two simple reasons.
The first is that we are now living in the information age with an abundance of
video cameras at our disposal. And, secondly, a flood is unlike any other
natural disaster, since it unfolds in slow motion, and in this case, endured
for an entire summer. What that meant was that there was plenty of time for
professionals, as well as neophytes, to document this awesome and terrifying
Through research, letters, and leads from telephone interviews, we gathered
more than 100 tapes from places such as: national and local news stations; the
Army Corps of Engineers; the National Guard; self-proclaimed videographers;
even the police department of St. Louis. As you can imagine, we were
overwhelmed by many hours' worth of gripping images and were faced with the
challenge of whittling the material down to what would end up being an
impressive 21 minutes of acquired footage in the film.
One distinct advantage we had in producing an hour-long film was that we could
collapse the events of a "floodfight" that might have lasted all summer into a
five to ten minute segment. By interweaving "selects" from the stock footage
with personal interviews and material we shot on location two years after the
flood, we were able to present the highlight of a floodfight in a dramatic and
compelling manner while also personalizing the footage we acquired.
One of the most arresting images we came across in our stock footage research
was a two-story farmhouse being swept away by the river. For us, it summed up
the awesome power of nature and man's tireless efforts to control it. Without a
doubt, this image would provide one of the highlights of the film.
But, beneath these spectacular images, we uncovered deeper questions and issues
concerning the management of the Mississippi, including: the continued costs of
allowing people to live along its banks; the river's delicate ecosystem and its
natural tendency to flood; and the restoration of wetlands.
In the wake of the Great Flood, unprecedented numbers of people retreated from
the banks of the Mississippi, deeply shaken by the river's fury and power. But
the vast majority of river bank dwellers have chosen to stay, keeping alive
many of the issues raised in the film.
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