Documentary Video Production Company Style
In late April 2019, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction sent Bizbio north, into some Ontario flood zones, to capture footage and photos and produce content to help fulfill their mandate to help educate Canadians about, in this case, flood risk.
It was a trip that had a powerful impact on me. I had some idea of what raging water looked like, after all, like all kids of south-western Ontario origin I have seen Niagara Falls many times growing up. But to see it right next to a home and meet the people who watched it with stoic wariness - well, it was a real eye opener.
Day one started in Huntsville, Ontario. It was supposed to be a single day trip - capture shots and interviews in and around the flooding that had beset that part of this beautiful Ontario downtown. It was alarming, near town center next to the river and the main bridge, a section of a side street, a Boston Pizza and a strip mall had all been inundated by water. It was a bright sunny day when I got there, beautiful really after a long cold winter. It reminded me of the stark contrasts we often see in nature and how they can draw out such awe and anxiousness all at the same time - more about that in part two.
Anyway I got some great aerial shots with the drone and some great ground level stuff with a slider and my Sony a6300 then did an interview with a local photographer before moving on.
Approaching a group of local men outside the Tim Horton's across the street I got a couple leads on some roads outside of town that had been washed out cutting off local residents. After an hour or so of driving around I managed to locate the spot and folks dealing with it. A local man was ferrying people across a football field length of submerged road in an old boat. Luckily the current was light, at least when I was there.
The radio had been talking about more rain coming the next day and an impending state of emergency that was to be called in Bracebridge, just 30 some odd kilometers south of Huntsville. Predictions were dire so with clearance from ICLR I drove down, stayed the night and set out early the next morning to find a story to tell and capture footage of fast moving water.
In a short compilation, and as fast draw production house, I quickly produced a demo video upon my return. Suffice it to say what i found in my wanderings that day was dramatic.
The irony of how nature can both stun with awe and fear simultaneously is hard to get used too. Though I've seen my fair share of storms rarely have I purposely left the house to explore their aftermaths. That was one of the most interesting parts of this trip - having an excuse to explore what I've always had an innate interest in - the power of mother nature.
Day two in the Huntsville Bracebridge area started with a visit to one of the main dams. It was raining hard all day but I did find a local resident named Carly who was out taking photos of the surging water flowing through Muskoka Falls Damn; the visuals of which were almost as awe inspiring as the sound, the heavy, deep rumbling of rushing water. Carly was great and her interview lead me to drive through the residential enclaves of Bracebridge itself looking for roads which were cut off.
Down one of these roads I met a fella out walking his dog who first mentioned Wilson Falls just north of Bracebridge. He said he had heard the one road leading to it had been flooded out cutting off all the residents in that area from the rest of the town. Plus he said the falls there were pretty spectacular on a regular day -
"I can only imagine what they would look like now," he said.
Well that was enough for me. I had to get there - but how?
Looking at the map I found the one road leading down to the falls and sure enough, driving down to it, saw it was indeed flooded out good. It was no wonder driving onto a flooded road was illegal in these situations. Not only would it be impossible to see the road due to the glare of the water itself (one could just as easily drive right into the river) but the water was still flowing and who knew how much damage had been done to the road itself. Sinkholes were a very real possibility - so there was no way to get in from a regular road route.
But, as I said, I was determined to find a way. I needed footage and the perspective of folks who couldn't otherwise tell their story. CBC and CTV were in the area and, call me competitive, but I wanted to collect something beyond what you might see on the evening news. So I looked at the map. There was a trail leading to Wilson Falls from the north along the river. I knew there was a good chance it was flooded but i had rubber boots on and I needed a way in. Flooded turned out to be a huge understatement.
After an hour and half of trudging through mud guttered wooded trails I decided to try my last course of action. The map showed a railroad track running north south and, on the map, it came very close to the falls in one location. I didn't know the geography but I decided to gamble that if I walked the tracks I could traverse whatever was between them and the road to the falls. Would it work and was it worth the effort of lugging my gear what was essentially a 45 minute hike in pouring rain, not knowing if it was going to pay off? Who knew. Luckily it turned out better than I could have hoped.
As I walked the tracks it was very still, despite the persistent rain. All but my drone was very susceptible to water damage so i took a lot of measures to keep everything including myself as dry as possible for as long as possible. Finally as I rounded a bend I began to hear the sounds of rushing water that had become so familiar over the last day or two. It turned out the tracks were raised high above the river. Down a steep embankment I could see the road now as well, very close to the entrance to the Wilson Falls hydroelectric dam; it was dry!. All I had to do was slide down, trudge through a short wooded lot and jump a ditch to get to it. Once there it was free and clear and was able to climb the road's incline and then finally see the raging falls.
Very soon after arriving I met Brian. Him and his wife lived right next to the damn and Brian had been monitoring the water closely for days. He told me how he wasn't worried - he had measures in place to protect his home, but that he had been surprised by the speed at which the water had risen. At that time the pumps within the dam had stopped and there was erosion forming around its outskirts. Both were things that if they persisted could change the equation for everyone in that area. Luckily the pumps in the dam came back on a little later and the water never reached unmanageable levels - at least for Brian.
Brian subsequently introduced me to Ron who lived a few doors down. Ron's driveway was just a little ways past where the flooding, that had cut them all off from town, ended. Ron agreed to take me down the road, now a river, in his canoe so I could get footage of the flooding as well as a short interview with him. Ron was certainly worried about his neighbours but counted himself lucky. His house was up a bit on a ridge and far from the threatening and still increasing waters. His neighbours were not so lucky. We passed a dozen plus houses that had water up to their doors. Ron was spending a lot of his time canoeing up and down checking in on them and bringing them supplies if needed.
Afterward I checked my gear, said my goodbyes and climbed back up to the railway tracks for the hike out and back to my car. Happy to say I made it without wrecking any gear while making some new friends along the way. My heart went out to those who were suffering through such a dramatic and heart wrenching event. I hate to think that this may become their new normal. Thanks for your attention. ~Bryan