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Filmmaker, digital media instructor makes documentary about hometown disaster

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Filmmaker, digital media instructor makes documentary about hometown disaster

UPDATE SEPT. 12, 2012:

Free screening scheduled

The College of Engineering’s IT program is presenting a screening of IT instructor Chip Gubera’s award-winning documentary film “Joplin, Missouri – A Tornado Story” on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. in Ketcham Auditorium in Thomas and Nell Lafferre Hall. It is free and open to the public. The film won Best Documentary at the St. Louis Filmmaker’s Showcase last summer, and Gubera won Best Director, Documentary.

Part of the proceeds from the film and all from the book go to the charity Rebuild Joplin. There will be a Q&A with writer-director Chip Gubera after the film. A limited number of DVDs and autographed George Noory, the film’s narrator, books will be for sale.

WHEN 7 p.m., Sept. 27

WHERE Ketcham Auditorium, Lafferre Hall


Filmmaker Chip Gubera documents a tennis shoe that was embeaded about 10ft up into the side a a doctors office near 26th and Jackson in Joplin, Mo., on Friday, June 17, 2011. Gubera, a digital media instructor within engineering’s computer science/IT program, is making a documentary about the May 22 tornado that destroyed large parts of his hometown. Photo by B.W.Shepherd/The Joplin Globe

“Living in tornado alley your whole life, you take this stuff seriously,” said Chip Gubera, of his first reaction to a newscast May 22 that his hometown of Joplin, Mo., had been destroyed by a tornado.

Gubera, a filmmaker who also works as a digital media instructor in the MU College of Engineering’s computer science IT program, said he tried to call family members with no luck. His panic increased when he went online to a live weather feed and saw familiar neighborhoods that were little more than fields of rubble.

Gubera documents tornado damage along Joplin Street. Photo by B.W.Shepherd/The Joplin Globe

“There were live Twitter updates, all these cries for help, tons of dramatic messages, but I couldn’t get hold of anyone,” he said.

His mother finally called two hours later to report the family was fine.

He spent the following day making arrangements to be gone, and on May 24, Gubera filled his car with bottled water and headed to Joplin.

“It was shocking. Story after story — last second decisions saved people’s lives in so many cases,” said Gubera.

The decision to make a documentary film about the disaster came a week later, after a call from his sister in Joplin.

“She works in the health care field. She called and was really upset and said that I needed to get down there,” said Gubera. “She told me, ‘People want to talk. People have a story to tell.’

“It occurred to me that this could be a way that I could help,” he said.

His father, Conrad Gubera, a professor at Missouri Southern State University, helped him get into the school’s television studios to do interviews and also is helping to produce the film.

“Doing this film took me back to my roots. It has allowed me to explore my feelings. One-third of the town is blown away. Friends are dead. The town starts to dig out and there’s so much honor — an attitude, or toughness, that is something the town gave me. It’s a part of me I disliked when I was growing up, but now it’s an asset. I’m embracing it.”

The documentary will feature personal firsthand accounts from survivors and city officials with a narrator. Gubera is hoping to complete it in time to enter it into Columbia’s TrueFalse Film Festival in the spring.

Gubera also is using the footage in digital media class projects at MU.

“I learned a lot about myself while shooting this film and a lot about my town. I’m proud of Joplin,” he said.

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