As November comes to a close and the skies turn dark and rainy, we can be thankful it's just a conventional rain. Speaking as someone who spent a couple of weeks living out of a New Braunfels hotel room with a pregnant wife, three cats and a dog after Hurricane Ike turned our apartment into a water feature, the passing of hurricane season is always one that is met with a great sigh of relief. So many Houstonians remain deeply affected by the storm, to say nothing of the folks who fled here from Katrina and opted to stay rather than return to the devastation.
Director Matt Faust has released an amazing short film called home that offers a truly unique and moving look at the difference between the home you thought was secure and the ruin that is left behind in the wake of a natural disaster. Faust had just finished a round of chemotherapy treatment when his childhood home was destroyed in Katrina.
Distraught, but determined that his memories of home wouldn't fade, Faust gave himself a crash course in animation software like 3DS Max and Aftereffects to see if what he had in mind was possible. Clearly it was, as we spend five sober minutes watching images and videos from Faust's life in Louisiana weave piece by piece in and out of those same images after the flood waters had receded. It's not just a personal trip down memory lane juxtaposed with disaster shots, though.
"The bigger challenge was probably going through every surviving picture and video we had and deciding not only what pre- and post-Katrina scenes could be recreated, but also how to make those scenes relevant to a broad audience," Faust said via e-mail. "It would've been easy to create a self-indulgent archive of my favorite memories, but that wouldn't have meant much to anyone else. Instead, I tried to focus on the universal qualities of home and loss and how to reach a broad audience at an instinctual level. I spent a year thinking and writing about that before I ever touched a computer."
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Faust and his wife had just moved back to Baton Rouge after living in Houston for about six months. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, and spent time in Houston for treatment. Though he loved the city, he was always ready and happy to return to his home. They had just begun settling back into that home when the storm came. Like most of their friends and neighbors they lost virtually everything.
"The thing that I remember most from those first weeks was hearing what had to be exaggerated rumors of the destruction, and then having those rumors confirmed when we finally made it to a working TV and saw it for ourselves," said Faust. "We made it back to the house about a month later and of course the scene was surreal; giant Dumpsters on top of houses, boats in streets, thick mud everywhere, deafening silence -- it was unbelievable. I already knew I was going to make something in response to Katrina, but that first trip back to my old house started to show me exactly what I would do."
home is like watching memory come to life. It progresses in flashes and moments, always threatened on the edges by the post-destruction reality but desperately screaming out happier times in fleeting glimpses and bright, happy colors. Mundane, everyday things become huge and important, simply because they represent the order and hope of the normal world rather than the sodden mess of nature's fury. Faust conducts a symphonic visual dream that hits a viewer over and over again in the one place he thinks he's safe: his own remembrances of childhood.
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Every year those of us down here on the third coast, no matter how far away the last great storm was, feel that fear that everything could be wiped away at a moment's notice by the rains and winds that come out of the Gulf of Mexico. It's as real a part of life as the sound of the bullfrogs and crickets, and we try to tune it out as best we can. That's what makes home such a terribly impressive work. It keeps the connections that make us strong while sadly stating that the tethers to those connections rest on unstable ground.
"Everything is always in a state of change," said Faust. "We just typically don't acknowledge it outside of some attention-focusing event like a graduation or childbirth that makes us stop and say, 'Wow, life is happening...time is progressing.' An event like Katrina forces so much change in such a short period of time that we all stop and acknowledge it. But change and loss are constant and inevitable. And since our idea of home is typically a place AND a time, we all lose home, or at least our first experience of it, through subtle, gradual change if not through a dramatic event like Katrina."
Check out the film below.