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Flatpack Film Festival Review: The Great Flood

8th April 2014

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Bill Morrison brings us a spectacular historical masterpiece in this fascinating film, portraying Mississippi during the floods of 1927.

Water is one thing that we cannot live without - but as we have seen over the last year, too much of it in the wrong place can easily devastate a land.

With rising concerns about global warming from environmental charities and scientists, there have been innumerable releases of ‘natural disaster’ films. The likes of The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and An Inconvenient Truth (2005) are often used as platforms to encourage better care of our planet. However, it is rare that directors present natural incidents as they actually are.

For the UK premier of his 80-minute flood epic, American filmmaker Bill Morrison joined an audience at The Midlands Art Centre. This film takes a similar form to his 2002 film Decasia - a black and white documentary featuring raw, unaltered footage with contributions form Hollywood Western hero William S. Hart, accompanied by symphonic score from Michael Gordon. This time round, he collaborates with Grammy Award-winning and improvisational musician Bill Frissel, who fortifies this moving photobook of American history with a jazz score doused with story-telling quality.

Morrison arranges a series of original footage from the 1927 floods into a number of themed chapters. Scenes range from a close-up view of then US Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and President Coolidge, to the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to northern cities. Many moments with the film were timed with the music, which makes The Great Flood an often touching and scintillating experience.  

Though based on a natural disaster, this silent film was anything but gloomy. The people of Mississippi can be seen in all their shapes and sizes, black and white, with hilariously quizzical expressions. Morrison captures the resilience and good spirit of the American people as they wade through several feet of rainfall to the riverbanks, forsaking their homes.

As the antique images flick past, accompanied by the spontaneous sounds of Bill Frissel, Morrisson takes us back in time and without the need of special effects. The years between us, the audience and the people of Mississippi come crashing down, floating away into a hollow existence. Instead, we simply become people, watching other people from a certain time and place, abundant in community spirit. 

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