Filmmaker Interview: No Ward

Filmmaker Terrence Nance‘s short film No Ward screened as a part of our “Brooklyn Transformations” show on July 17th. Terrance’s film focuses on the difficulties of those forced to leave New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when they tried to integrate themselves into their new communities. With heartbreaking realism the film drives home the fact that the hurricane’s aftermath has lasted and will last for years beyond any media attention. In this way, this important work distinguishes itself from the many films made soon after the tragedy.

Rooftop’s Danielle Moise spoke to Terrence about the devastating effects of forced migration.

Rooftop Films: There have been a lot of films made about the aftermath of Katrina but yours is especially interesting because it addresses the issue of forced migration and these people’s varied opinions towards going back. What gave you the idea to approach it in that way?

Terrence Nance: I was searching around for grants and residencies and came across a grant called the South Western Alternative Media Project’s Emerging Filmmaker Fund. Each year they give 5000 dollars to 7 Filmmakers from Texas and 7 Filmmakers from Mexico to fund a 10 minute film on a theme. The theme when I applied was “migration.”

I’m from Dallas, TX and I was one of a handful of black people at my High School. One day I was speaking with my mother and she told me, “These white folks are having a fit about all these ‘Katrina kids’ at the school, you know they didn’t expect them to stay.” She then told me that there was a bit of a scandal happening in which the school commissioner was not counting the test scores of Katrina survivors when formulating the school averages, presumably as a means of safeguarding the funding situation that the schools had secured based on their students’ testing prowess. She told me this before I was thinking about the movie or the grant and it got me googling around to see if anyone had written about it. I found an article about the situation but it was buried in some local weekly paper.

I guess at that point I felt that the story about Katrina that wasn’t being told was the culture clash between the survivors of the storm and people in the cities that they were forced to migrate to. The film definitely deviated from that original point but I wrote the grant to make No Ward because the word migration reminded me of that conversation with my mother because no one in Texas expected them to stay, and largely the survivors had no desire to be where they were forced to migrate to. Forced not just by the storm but by public health issues, rent increases, the priorities of the political establishment in N.O. and a host of other factors.

RF: Did you have a personal connection to the people in the film? What lead you to making the film?

TN: I had no personal connection to the people that made it into the final 10 minute cut of the film. I found them through friends of friends, literally just calling everyone I knew and asking them if they knew survivors in Texas. There are almost 300,000 so it wasn’t difficult especially with the nature of African American Culture in the south ya mama an’ em always know somebody who know somebody…

That said I definitely connected with some of the people I interviewed just because the nature of the process required a lot of sharing of very intimate personal information that was often traumatic in nature. So I often found myself connected after the experience of documenting the person was over.

RF: No Ward is screening at our “Brooklyn Transformations” show, which is made up of short films made entirely by Brooklyn filmmakers.  How do you think your film fits within this group of films regarding constantly changing urban areas?

TN: I hope that my film illustrates how a large migration of people can change the culture, tone, and stress level of an urban environment without any changes to the physical space. One thing that was clear was how evident the high stress levels of the displaced New Orleanians were, and how transformative that stress is on the city.

Essentially the survivors are trapped. They can’t go back, they don’t have family other places, their benefits packages are contingent upon wading through literally OCEANS of byzantine bureaucracy that would most likely need to restart if they relocated. They are trapped. And its a testament to their spirits how gracefully they have managed the situation in what has come to be their prison. That is a bit of an oversimplification but I think that the collective psychological state of the New Orleans Diaspora in Texas is having and will continue to have a transformative impact on the culture and mood of the cities they now live in.

RF: Are you a full-time filmmaker? If not, what else do you do?

TN: No, I had the opportunity to teach film at New UTrecht High School and Thomas Jefferson High School both in Brooklyn over the last 2 months. I also do graphic design, web design, illustration, and music for TV but I am attempting to retire from all of those things starting a few weeks ago.

RF: What excites you about screening your film at Rooftop?

TN: It’s my “madeline de proust” because as a kid there was a drive in movie theater near my uncle’s house. We could see the screen from his rooftop and whenever I go to rooftop or hear the name even I get the nostalgic feeling of watching bad 90’s movies with no sound from the top of my uncle’s house. It’s a silly thing to excite me I know. I am also excited to screen in the community, it feels… egalitarian.

RF: Tell us about what else you’re currently working on.

TN: I’m finishing my first feature. It’s called How Would You Feel? and its about a guy’s emotional state right after he gets stood up by a woman one night… but everybody gets stood up once in awhile so the film grows into an examination of how nuanced that emotional state is, despite the fact it’s caused by this seemingly banal experience.

I’m looking for finishing funds, one or two amazing animators to help me finish a few sequences, and some good luck. You can watch the trailer, my funding pitch movieread about it, and keep up with the film’s progress at HWUF.MVMT.COM

See more captivating short films outdoors this summer at “Capucine: Filmmaking Monkeys and Other Renegades” on July 29th, “Doomed Love and the Devilles” on August 6th, and “Rooftop Shots” on August 20th.