First it was Wayne. Then Beaver Crossing. And then, as everyone saw, Pilger. All Nebraska communities ravaged by tornadoes.
None of these twisters escaped the attention of Sean Sjn, a filmmaker and (self-described) "professional sound guy," who saw that this destruction – and what was left – needed to be documented.
"All these peoples’ lives are affected by these tornadoes," says Sjn, who has worked on a variety of films, television shows and commercials. "And we see this, and they come and they go. But what happens to these people?”
So he set out to make a documentary, which has become "Twisted Silence." While filming is nearly complete, Sjn is now turning to crowdfunding to raise the money required to edit and market the film.
Since inception, the entire filmmaking process has had its share of hurdles – most especially gaining the confidence of interview subjects, who include many people whose lives were upended by the recent storms. (In Pilger, for example, nearly three-quarters of the town was damaged by the June 16, 2014 tornado, and two people were killed.)
“It’s harder than we expected it was going to be," Sjn says. "At first we thought it was going to be very, very easy – capturing a couple stories and then getting out. But that’s not the case. We have to go in there delicately, and try to build a relationship with these people, and get them to understand what we’re doing."
Sjn wants to just be allowed to "show the story to everybody else."
"Everybody has a story," he says, "and sometimes they don’t know it.”
Sometimes the stories can be sad, Sjn says. "There’s been a number of times where during filming I had to put my sunglasses on so I didn’t start crying with them."
And sometimes they can be "amazing," such as the flagpole story. Sjn tells it like this: A couple had been in long disagreement about putting up a flagpole in front of their house. Along comes the tornado, which deposits a piece of their neighbor's surplus lumber into the side of the house. Voila: instant flagpole. The wife, who had been wanting the flagpole, Sjn reports, left it sticking out even after the house was otherwise repaired.
But whatever the story’s content, it's clear to Sjn, and to Sydnee Kerns – the film's public media coordinator – that there are many important reasons to tell each tale.
For one, Kerns says, they have found there is a strong therapeutic aspect to sharing one's story with the world.
“I think it’s therapeutic because people care," Kerns says. "They want to come help clean up, and cleaning up is great, but nobody really sits down and talks with [those affected by the tornado]. And they want to get their fears out, their release of everything that happened.”
Kerns knows about this from personal experience. Her mother, who lives in northern Alabama, has survived five tornadoes, and Kerns herself was even born during one of them.
“I can see why all these families want to tell their stories,” she says. “My mom always wanted to tell hers.”
"Twisted Silence" also hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of tornadoes. Time and again, Kerns and Sjn say, they heard the same refrain: nobody thought it could happen to him or her.
"But it can happen to you," Kerns says. "And I think showing these stories and the destruction really opens peoples’ eyes to be a little more cautious, pay a little bit more attention.”
To make sure that these stories are heard, Sjn needs help: approximately $50,000, which he and Kerns hope to raise through Kickstarter. They just started the crowdfunding pitch at the end of August, and they’re hoping to raise the capital needed to finish the various aspects of the film (editing, expert interviews) with enough for marketing, too. For more information, go to facebook.com/twistedsilencefilm. Any money they raise over and above their $50,000 goal, Kerns and Sjn say, will be donated to victims of the tornadoes they documented.
It makes perfect sense for Sjn and Kerns to turn to the community to help fund their documentary. "Twisted Silence" is all about the community – about helping survivors and contributing to the recovery process.
"We’re just going to do it because that’s the right thing to do," Sjn says.