'The Great Flood' is scheduled to screen at 8 p.m. March 31 at the Thurber Theatre.
While a hunk of people on Ohio State’s campus will be tuned into the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four game between OSU and Kansas University Saturday, Bill Morrison is expecting a few people to lock their eyes on a different screen.
The Obie-winning filmmaker will be presenting “The Great Flood” at 8 p.m. Saturday in Thurber Theatre, located at the Drake Center. The 80-minute film about the 1927 Mississippi River flood includes archival footage from the natural disaster. Composed music from Grammy-winning jazz guitarist/composer Bill Frisell will accompany the film.
Morrison said his visit won’t just mark his first time in Columbus or OSU.
“I’ve never been on the campus of a big university when their team’s in the Final Four,” he said. He said the showing should end at about 9:30 p.m., so people can still catch the game.
“The Great Flood” is the longest film Morrison and Frisell have produced. The duo started forming the idea for the film six or seven years ago, Morrison said, but his inspiration for the film came from reading John Barry’s “Rising Tide.”
“It spoke to so many aspects about how the country developed during the Civil War … germane not just to the image and to the history, but to the history of music,” he said of the flood.
Morrison said the biggest production challenge was getting funding to gather 1927 newsreel footage.
“That’s production. Trying to get something like this up and running is always a challenge,” he said.
Morrison also incorporated his own footage from the 2010 Mississippi River flood he gathered on a trip to the delta with Frisell.
Most of the archival film Morrison got from Fox Movietone News at the University of South Carolina, the Library of Congress, National Archives and private collectors.
“He uses these kind of deteriorating qualities,” Charles Helm, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center for the arts, said of Morrison’s routine use of stock film. “It gives it kind of almost this silvery, kind of ghostly look to the film. It’s very evocative.”
Helm said “The Great Flood” was appealing to the Wexner Center because it’s a collaboration involving Frisell, with whom he’s had a long-standing relationship.
The Wexner Center was one of several co-commissioners of the project, including Dartmouth College and the University of Illinois, where the film premiered in September.
“This natural event was one of the things that basically spurred a musical evolution,” Helm said of the flood.
Morrison said the flood forced River blues-singing plantation workers in the Mississippi Delta to migrate north. Once in urban areas, they started playing in bigger clubs and took to amplified guitars, which created “electrified city blues,” which then influenced R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and jazz, Helm said.
He added Frisell’s Americana score for the film imbeds the progression of blues.
“The images sort of flow over you like music,” Morrison said. “It’s more experimental and temporal.”
Karen Simonian, director of media and public relations at the Wexner Center, said it’s probably “inevitable” for the game to have an impact on attendance at the showing.
“It’s a tricky one, but we hope people will find a way to fit both arts and sports into their lives,” Simonian said.
She suggested guests purchase tickets right at Thurber Theatre because extras will be available. Tickets are priced at $15 for students and Wexner members and $18 for the general public.
Helm assured that he will watch the game after the show.
“I’m a huge basketball fan and I’m really interested in the outcome of the game, and like a lot of people, I also have a DVR,” Helm said laughing.