MU Professors Are Going to the Emmys
Brian Maurer, assistant teaching professor of film studies, has never had a reason to get a tuxedo until now. He was recently invited to attend the Mid-American Emmy awards on October 5 in St. Louis. because the film Joplin, Missouri—A Tornado Story has been nominated for best documentary in the public broadcasting category. Maurer was a cinematographer for the film directed by Chip Gubera, an instructor in the computer science department.
Gubera, who is originally from Joplin, wasn’t sure how to help his community after the tornado destroyed it on May 22, 2011. His sister told him the best thing he could do to help his hometown community was to use his skills as a filmmaker and document what the people were going through. He wanted to tell the honest, full story of what was happening and for the film to act as an accurate documentation for the city and its people.
Gubera asked Maurer to travel to Joplin with him to capture footage during the summer of 2011. At that time, no new buildings had been built and piles of debris were scattered everywhere.
“The town was so quiet and there was no traffic,” says Maurer. “I would drive around, see someone sifting through what was left of their belongings, and stop to capture their emotions on fiIm.”
Maurer and Gubera would start each day deciding what shots they needed. It was important to both of them that they tell the whole story, so footage was taken of the shock and sadness, but also the strength and determination of the people during the clean-up and rebuilding process.
“Brian often used shallow focus techniques with a handheld camera to show anxiety and horror,” says Gubera. “His choices of composition, shot technique, and subject contributed greatly to the overall tone and story of the film.”
Nearly a year after the tornado, Gubera and Maurer returned to Joplin to screen the film. Those who saw it were grateful to them for telling the story correctly and not sensationalizing their experiences. One survivor held up a copy of the film and said, “This is our legacy.”
“That was when I felt like I achieved my goal of making a film that accurately told their story,” says Gubera.
The Emmy nomination isn’t the first recognition the documentary has received—it won best documentary feature at the 2012 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase where Gubera also won for best director, and it was named as an official selection of the 2012 St. Louis International Film Festival.
Maurer will be able to use his experience on this film and the others he has directed to guide the 78 students who are now majoring in film studies. The program has grown over the past years and courses fill up quickly. The demand for new technology and diversity in class offerings helped him to get the approval to add five new courses to the curriculum for the 2013–14 academic year.
Students in this program are experiencing success. The MU Film Production Club organized the first Valentine’s Day Film Festival in 2012. During this multi-campus collaboration with Stephens College, eleven short films written and produced by students were screened.
MU students were invited to screen the film Far From the Tree earlier this year at the Arizona International Film Festival.
“This is just an indication of the quality of student we have in this program,” says Maurer. “You wouldn’t think that Missouri would be known for a strong film studies program, but the True/False and Citizen Jane film festivals help bring the talent here.”