The story behind ‘Reflections of Flood Recovery’ by Lucinda Horrocks.
When the 2010 floods hit the small Victorian towns of Clunes and Creswick Jary and I were living in Melbourne. Melbourne is not so far away, but, like many in Australia, it was the devastating, tragic floods in Queensland that year which captured our attention and empathy. The Clunes and Creswick floods became half-remembered headlines. So when we were engaged to document the story of residents who were afflicted by these local floods, I learnt a lot. I learned there is nothing ‘small’ about a flood. And I heard some remarkable stories of survival and resilience.
This is the story of how we put together the film ‘Reflections of Flood Recovery.’
Feature photo by Tim Burder.
The project was initiated by Hepburn Health Services which wanted to celebrate the ending of its successful two year flood recovery program by giving the community a permanent way to reflect on their stories of the floods. Designscope proposed a micro-website with a gallery of resident images of the floods and a short film. Because the budget was very small, instead of video it was proposed we use audio and stills photography. Designscope would oversee production, contracting Wind & Sky to produce the audio story and edit the film, and Tim Burder to take the portraits. The visual concept was to use Tim’s photography and integrate those with community photographs using a bleached effect which would help tie the images together and also give a sense of distance and silence.
The audio storytelling concept was ambitious. Designscope asked us to come up with a short five-minute documentary story which incorporated the voices of many different residents. Incorporating many characters in a micro-story is always a challenge, as the audience needs time to get to know and recognise each character, even if only briefly, and this leaves little time for other things. Jary and I developed a treatment based on many voices telling a story of three parts: ‘the flood hits’, ‘trauma’ and ‘recovery’. We finessed the story with Kim Percy and Morgan Williams of Designscope and Karina Brooks and Lesley Tydeman of Hepburn Health Services until we were all happy and ready to move into production.
Karina and Lesley arranged the interviews to happen over two days in May 2012: one day in Creswick and one day in Clunes. Jary and I interviewed ten people in total over the two days. While we were interviewing in one room, Tim Burder was taking photographic portraits outside. Each person was asked to bring a significant object which reminded them of their flood experience, and Tim photographed each person with their object. Tim’s portraits were beautiful, capturing each subject with quiet dignity.
It was frightening, at first, speaking to people (strangers!) and asking them to share a story where they experienced great trauma. But the people we spoke to were warm, generous and candid about their experience. Having the interview arranged and looked after by two very good, very experienced support workers, Karina and Lesley, was a great asset. We ended up with a diversity of voices and stories and a wealth of content to choose from.
Editing was a challenge. But then, isn’t it always? Trying to fit all the voices in, yet still sustaining a story spine, was key. We created a series of ‘radio’ or audio-only edits first as we attempted to whittle the story down to its bare bones, then we integrated the images. Tim’s portraits were wonderful to work with, but the transitions to the community photographs needed careful handling, requiring all of Jary’s skills and sensitivity as an editor.
We put a lot of thought and effort into soundscaping the story. It was Jary who developed the haunting drip melody, and that combined with sounds of thunder and falling rain (actually a recording of our shower running) provided the ambient background we needed for when the flood hit. Gary Whelan’s gentle guitar piece provided an uplifting end to the story, as residents show the resilience of community in the aftermath of disaster.
The film and web site was launched in December 2012 at the Creswick RSL. Most of the people we interviewed were there.
It’s an odd thing working on a documentary film. You spend a lot of time, hours on end, looking at individual faces and hearing their voices, and you feel you know them very well. So I was bouncing around at the launch saying hello to everyone as if to old friends. Most, of course, could barely remember who I was. They’d only met me once six months ago.
Nevertheless, their voices and images were up there for many to see. I’m proud of the film, of the hours of work Jary and I put into it, and proud of all our subjects for sharing their story. I hope they liked it, sad memories and all. It was, after all, produced for them.