It clicked for Chip Gubera during the Q&A session.
Gubera, a computer science instructor, had just played his documentary “Joplin, Missouri: A Tornado Story” in front of a packed Joplin auditorium. It was the first time he screened the film he directed in front of his hometown.
“This is our legacy,” a Joplin resident said to the crowd, holding up a DVD of the documentary in her hands.
Gubera said that was when he felt like he had accomplished what he set out to do.
“To me, I felt like it was a success at that point,” Gubera said.
That success was reaffirmed when Gubera and his cinematographer, assistant teaching professor of film studies Brian Maurer, were nominated for a Mid-America Emmy award. And while both said they appreciate the honor, they said the film’s mission has already been achieved.
The day after the Joplin tornado storm hit, May 22, 2011, Chip headed down to his hometown with a car full of water and his chainsaw. He said he wanted to assist any way he could. A week later, his sister, Kristin, presented him with a different idea.
When Gubera is not teaching in the IT program of the engineering school, he makes films. He has made four feature films and about 40 short films. His sister, a Joplin healthcare professional, suggested he document the moment with his camera.
So Gubera headed to Joplin and began recording video with his father, Conrad, a professor of sociology at Missouri Southern State University. Chip said he wanted to take a different perspective than the national media; rather than focus on the macro elements of the situation, Chip wanted to find an answer to “what happens when your home gets destroyed?”
“It’s pretty hard to see your hometown destroyed, to see your high school destroyed, to see where you used to play as a kid destroyed, to see where you used to go on dates with girls destroyed,” Gubera said.
A few days after being in Joplin, while interviewing some of the film’s 18 subjects, Gubera asked Maurer to join him as the film’s cinematographer. The two are friends and MU alumni.
“When you make a film, you try to surround yourself with the best people,” Gubera said. “And (Maurer)’s definitely one of the best.”
Maurer is not from Joplin, but he said he now feels a connection with the town.
“I certainly feel as if, secondhand, (I know) what it was like to go through that situation,” Maurer said. “When I think about what it was like when I was down there filming, that’s something I’m always going to carry with me.”
After about a year of shooting footage, editing, re-editing, working with producers and getting nationally-syndicated radio host George Noory to record narration for the film, “Joplin, Missouri: a Tornado Story” played for an audience in that Joplin auditorium.
Then things snowballed for the film.
When President Barack Obama gave the commencement address for a Joplin high school in May 2012, he received a care package that included the film. AmeriCorps began showing the documentary to volunteers. At the 2012 St. Louis Filmmaker showcase, the film won best feature documentary, and Gubera took home best director.
And after the documentary played on local television stations in St. Louis and Joplin, the film was nominated for a Mid-America Emmy in the cultural documentary category.
The Mid-America Emmy chapter is one of 19 regional chapters. It encompasses Missouri, Arkansas, the Quad Cities and part of Louisiana. Ten entries were submitted for the cultural documentary category, with four earning a nomination, said Maggie Eubanks, the executive director of the chapter.
“This film has really grown in ways we didn’t even think,” Gubera said.
The Mid-America Emmy awards ceremony will be held in St. Louis on Saturday.
Gubera said he doesn’t know what will happen, and in a way, he doesn’t really care.
“I don’t have any expectations,” he said. “It’s an honor to be nominated; it’s an honor to be going…. Win or lose, we still won by just being nominated.”