On May 22nd 2011 my hometown Joplin, MO was struck by an EF5 tornado. The storm was nearly one mile in diameter when it touched down. It roared through the heart of town, travelling almost six miles, and destroyed everything it its path.
I was in Los Angeles when news of the storm broke. I spent the following terror-stricken hours calling and emailing every relative and friend I had in Joplin to learn their fates—hoping against hope that everyone was safe.
It was with immeasurable relief that I learned that my immediate family had survived. But that brief moment of respite was promptly dispatched by the sobering revelation that many of my friends and neighbors had not survived the storm, and that nearly 30% of Joplin had been leveled.
Once my initial shock subsided, I committed in my heart to return home and document the disaster. I knew that the news media would gravitate to the devastating scenes of death and destruction, so I decided to tell a different story: I wanted to mourn the loss of life, but I thought it equally important to mourn the tremendous personal history lost when the storm swept away the homes, neighborhoods, and landmarks that anchored our lives.
A few weeks after the tornado I touched down in Joplin with a few cases of camera gear, a couple of friends to serve as my crew, and my mind and heart set on bringing Joplin’s story to the world. We filmed for nine days, and everyday I was humbled as my friends and family recounted to me the harrowing stories of how they survived the storm.
During the course of my interviews I met a mother who is returning survivors’ displaced photographs, a museum curator that is developing archived film negatives for families who’ve lost all other heirlooms, and a photographer who is taking new portraits for families that are starting over. Throughout Joplin I witnessed the efforts of kind souls working to reconnect people with the personal histories stolen from them by the storm. I hope my film can do the same.
This journey has been the most amazing experience of my life. I am deeply humbled and inspired by the people of Joplin who have lost so much, but who carry on with patience and grace. It is my honor to share their stories with you.