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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.

Lightning 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 natural disaster.

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.

Help, Help 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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