Belcourt Theatre • March 30

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Photograph courtesy of Icarus Films


by Justin Stokes

Nothing brings people together quite like a disaster.

Taking advantage of archived footage and cobbling it together into vignettes, experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison created The Great Flood, reviving the pulse of life during one of America’s worst floods—the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. That single weather event submerged 27,000 square miles of land surrounding the tumefied tributaries of the Mississippi River and changed the lives of a million people already plagued by poverty.
“Man plans, God laughs” is the theme found under the stream of video content that shows the toil of everyday life. Labors go from fertile to futile as the water flushes civilization away.
But there’s hope beyond the water. The cruel imagery of the flood gives in to the mellow calm of the music. Master musician Bill Frisell supplies a jazz-fusion optimism that keeps things calm and floating along with the muddy water and debris. Frisell’s homage to the sounds of the Mississippi fits well.
The length of the film offers a challenge to the viewer. It is seventy-five minutes long, and there is a chapter within the film featuring the Sears-Roebuck catalog that attempts to show humanity through the consumerism of the day, putting forth a slice of life that’s already on the table. That’s a problem only if audience members are looking for a real narrative instead of the free-flowing experience of music and history.
The Great Flood comes across as a memory. At times, the footage wears an accoutrement of skipping char marks and creates the illusion of the camera trying to forget. But the documentary also has crisp moments preserved in wow-worthy frames that belong in a contemporary art gallery and tells enough of the story to be reliable.
The Great Flood will be showing at the Belcourt Theatre on March 30 for a one-night event with live music composed and performed by Bill Frisell. For tickets and information visit

Justin Stokes is the founder of the MTSU Film Guild, a student organization which functions as a production company for student filmmakers. He is a filmmaker, screenwriter, and social media manager.

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