Two Kentucky filmmakers come to Waco on Monday to show a film they say shows the impressive resilience of Texans in the days after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas Gulf Coast in 2017.
Writer and co-producer Portia Pennington and cinematographer/editor/co-producer Sam Kirby will bring their documentary “Disturbance” Monday to the Waco Hippodrome for a 7 p.m. screening that’s part of the Deep in the Heart Film Festival’s summer movie series.
The film, shot in Rockport, Port Aransas, Houston and San Antonio in the aftermath of Harvey’s high winds and flooding, captures not only the loss experienced by survivors, but their plucky resolve to rebuild.
The two were looking forward to Monday’s screening in Waco, the film’s first Texas showing. “That was our goal all along — to get it back to Texas,” said Pennington. The short film, a little more than an hour long, shows storm survivors as they return to destroyed homes and businesses as well as the hundreds of volunteers providing aid, often on their own and out of their pocket.
“We were all so moved by the stories and the people we met,” said Pennington. “There was a natural resilience: ‘We are going to come back’ . . . ‘This is Texas and this is how we do it.’”
Produced by Vid Monster Productions of Bowling Green, Kentucky, “Disturbance” grew out of Pennington’s and Kirby’s initial contact with Harvey relief efforts, during which Kirby shot some video of those trying to cope with their losses. “We had the start of some very compelling stories,” Pennington said.
They decided to return later and capture more stories for a fuller look at the human response to Harvey, learning in the process just how big Texas is: The area impacted by Harvey’s winds and rain — much of the Texas Gulf Coast — stretched almost as long as their entire state.
“I knew it was going to be bad, but didn’t know how bad . . . It’s as close as I’ve been to a war zone,” Pennington said of the long stretches of smashed buildings, flooded homes and piles of debris the hurricane left in its path. The filmmaking crew also learned the hard way the result of not thinking through what a natural disaster can mean. They arrived at Port Aransas without bringing any food with them. Reduced to the sports drinks they had brought with them, they were saved by a Texas icon: a Dairy Queen that was serving a reduced menu for cash only.
For five days, the filmmakers talked with a lighthouse keeper, volunteers at a Houston food bank and a Rockport relief camp, a family in a flooded farm community, a park ranger in San Antonio where storm refugees had been evacuated, state and federal government workers and more. “People were very forthcoming. I think they were proud of their communities and wanted to share their stories. And they were grateful for the help,” Pennington said. “There was a feeling of hope, that no matter what nature throws at us, we’ll figure a way out of it.”
In fact, the filmmakers came back with more footage than they could use, making editing one of the more difficult parts of the project. “It was hard to boil down which stories you were going to tell. You feel a little heartless at some point,” said Kirby, founder and owner of Bowling Green-based Vid Monster Productions.
Pennington, the film’s writer, considers herself more playwright than scriptwriter —she’s the author of the acclaimed one-act play “Kentucky Voices” — and found her skills in listening to and telling stories served her well for “Disturbance.”
“Disturbance” got its initial showing at the Louisville Film Festival and it’s been submitted for consideration at other film festivals. The film’s producers are considering shaving off 15 minutes from its 1 hour, 15 minute running time, to make it more appealing for broadcast by public television stations and reach a broader audience, Kirby said.
“We’re excited to get back to the region,” Kirby said. “We really want people to be engaged with it. It sheds a good light on the character of the people of Texas.”