About The Great Flood

Year Released:
Documentary, Experimental
Filmmaker Bill Morrison is scheduled to be present The film will be preceded by the short film All Vows, commissioned by Indiana University Cinema and the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program. Funding was provided by the Dorit and Gerald Paul Program in Jewish Culture and the Arts. Its premiere presentation was supported by Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts & Humanities Program and College of Arts & Humanities Institute.

The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in American history. In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its banks in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles to a depth of up to 30 feet. Part of it enduring legacy was the mass exodus of displaced sharecroppers. Musically, the “Great Migration” of rural southern blacks to Northern cities saw the Delta Blues electrified and reinterpreted as the Chicago Blues, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll.

Using minimal text and no spoken dialog, filmmaker Bill Morrison and composer/guitarist Bill Frisell have created a powerful portrait of a seminal moment in American history through a collection of silent images matched to a searing original soundtrack.

Music performed by Bill Frisell, Guitar; Ron Miles, Trumpet; Tony Scherr, Bass; Guitar Kenny Wollesen, Drums. (2K DCP presentation)

More about the film
The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in American history. In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its earthen embankments in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles. Part of its legacy was the forced exodus of displaced sharecroppers, who left plantation life and migrated to Northern cities. Musically, the Great Migration fueled the evolution of acoustic blues, including artists who witnessed the flood such as Charley Patton (High Water Everywhere) and Memphis Minnie (When the Levee Breaks), as well as to electric blues bands that thrived in cities like Memphis, Detroit and Chicago, becoming the wellspring for R&B, rock, and developing jazz styles.

Filmmaker Bill Morrison first met Bill Frisell while Morrison was working in the kitchen of the Village Vanguard in the early 1990s. The Great Flood is their third film project together and their first full-length work.

Much of Morrison’s work in The Great Flood is based on actual footage of the 1927 flood, including source material from the Fox Movietone Newsfilm Library and the National Archives. All film documenting this catastrophe was shot on volatile nitrate stock, and what footage remains is pock marked and partially deteriorated. The degraded film stock figures prominently in Morrison’s aesthetic with distorted images suggesting different planes of reality in the story—those lived, dreamt, or remembered. In The Great Flood, the bubbles and washes of decaying footage is associated with the destructive force of rising water, the film stock seeming to have been bathed in the same water as the images it depicts. These layers of visual information, paired with Frisell’s music, become contemporary again. The Great Flood’s imagery is visible through history’s prism, one that dances with the sound of modernity.

For the score, Bill Frisell has drawn upon his wide musical palette, informed by elements of American roots music but refracted through his uniquely evocative approach that highlights essential qualities of his thematic focus. For The Great Flood, Frisell performs on guitar with Tony Scherr on bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums and Ron Miles on trumpet.

In the spring of 2011, as the Mississippi River was again flooding to levels not seen since 1927, Bill Morrison, Bill Frisell, and the band traveled together from New Orleans, through Vicksburg, Clarksdale, Memphis, Davenport, Iowa, St. Louis and Chicago bringing The Great Flood home again.

Bill Morrison
Bill Morrison‘s films often combine archival film material set to contemporary music. He has collaborated with some of the most influential composers of our time, including John Adams, Laurie Anderson, Gavin Bryars, Dave Douglas, Richard Einhorn, Philip Glass, Michael Gordon, Henryk Gørecki, Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Steve Reich, among many others. In 2013, Morrison was honored with retrospective programs in four different countries: the Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis; the Vila Do Conde Short Film Festival, Portugal; the Adelaide Film Festival, Australia; and the Aarhus Film Festival, Denmark. He will have a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in NY in October – November 2014.

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