The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was one of the most destructive events to occur in North America. Thanks to a combination of abnormal weather and weakened levees, the Mississippi River escaped from its levee system in 145 places and flooded 27,000 square miles across 10 states. The damage resulted in the deaths of 246 people, the displacement of thousands and more than $400 million in damages and killed 246 people in seven states.
In this elegiac film essay, experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison recalls the commercial and emotional disruptions created by the flood waters with rarely seen footage culled from the Fox Movietone Newsfilm Library at the University of South Carolina and the National Archives. The film places a strong emphasis on the chaos that the flood brought to African-American communities – many rural poor blacks were forced out of the South as part of the Negro Migration as a result of this catastrophe. Indeed, the drastic socioeconomic disparity between whites and blacks, both in the pre-flood period and the manner in which survivors were rescued, is painfully obvious from the footage.
Morrison eschews narration for this production, using an imaginative score by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell to offer an acoustic illustration of this extraordinary catastrophe. Morrison also uses a great deal of nitrate film footage in various states of decomposition, which offers a sly affirmation of how the tragic lessons from the flood have all but crumbled out of American history.