Hurricane Heroes is a moving documentary that shows the incredible lengths some humans will go to help rescue animals in the wake of devastating natural disasters.
Director Shawn Bannon joins us on Close-up Culture to tell us about his award-winning short film, working with Kevin Smith, being on the set of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, and much more.
Q: ‘Hurricane Heroes’ recently premiered on Vimeo. How did you get involved in this story?
A: I had already been filming in North Carolina a few weeks earlier, so I knew parts of Eastern NC relatively well. The Waterkeeper Alliance was also instrumental in keeping me up to date on what was actually going on when the hurricane hit.
A lot of the flooding occurred days, even a week after the hurricane hit. It was devastating to see all the homes and farms completely submerged and I was very worried about some of the people I knew that were in the flood zones. I had been watching the hurricane unfold on Instagram and watching all these amazing and inspiring stories from so many points of view, people risking their lives and helping those in need.
I honestly didn’t know what I was going to get as far as a video goes. I was just going to go there and hopefully film some rescues and not get in anyone’s way. It’s a tough decision to put yourself in the middle of a life threatening situation and I knew a lot of areas were on lockdown, but several people had offered to let me go out on the rescue boats with them.
But will someone have to rescue you? That thought definitely haunted my mind, we did show up extra prepared and with our own rescue/safety gear if things got difficult. Fortunately the filming went smoothly.
Q: There are lots of striking images in the film and impressive drone shots. How difficult was it putting together the visual side of this film?
A: Extremely difficult. Lots of time, patience and perseverance. Some seriously incredible people contributed their videos to this project. Yes, lots of drone shots and a few aerial shots I got when Rick Dove of the Waterkeeper Alliance took me up in a plane with him.
The aerial footage is absolutely crucial in getting a sense of the scale and even then it’s really hard to show how many factory farms, CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations) are in North Carolina. There are so many and it’s really unfathomable how many are in the flood plains.
It’s sad to know that millions of farmed animals were locked up in CAFOs and left behind to endure a hurricane and massive floods – hundreds of thousands of farmed animals drown. Of course it’s not easy to move millions of animals, but why are they building these in places that have flooded time and again? It’s unbelievable.
The thing I didn’t know about hurricanes is they’re a lot like massive tornadoes. I grew up in Ohio and the town next to ours was devastated by an F5 tornado when I was a kid. It was a horrific thing to experience and to see the destruction.
Tornadoes might hit one house and the house next door might be untouched, I was surprised to see that hurricanes can do the exact same thing. You drive into a neighbourhood that looks untouched, but then all of a sudden it’s endless rows of destruction because those houses were a few feet lower in elevation. It was really sad.
Q: There is a heartbreaking scene in which three pigs have to be returned to a farmer, most likely for slaughter, shortly after the team had spent over 24 hours rescuing them. How do you reflect on this incident?
A: Yeah, this is a really difficult event that occurred.
Often farmers have become desensitized to the animals they are raising even though these pigs are living, breathing, sentient beings and clearly capable of love and joy.
I have met several hog farmers who talk about how intelligent pigs are. They have even admitted that if they spend 20-30 minutes with one specific pig, it’s easy to build a friendship just like they would with a dog. If they come back in the barn a few days later that pig will come right up to them like a friend – fond of them.
Even farmers will rescue pigs from time to time so they intentionally keep their emotional distance. Now, if it was that farmer who was out there for 24 hours trying to do the rescue, risking his life, experiencing an individual connection to those pigs – would he still slaughter them for food?
Q: What did you take away from your time spent with some of the people and animals featured in the film?
A: North Carolina is an amazing place with really amazing and inspiring people. It’s really changed my perception of my own activism, getting to spend so much time there, meeting with environmentalists, animal activists, and the communities that live around the farms.
There are so many reasons people are out there helping each other out. Some people I met lived by a factory farm and saw pigs struggling through the flood waters. Some were caught in the floods themselves and many people were going into flood zones to help rescue those in need.
Q: Can you talk about your own vegan journey and love for animals?
A: I’ve been vegan for 22 years now. Always for ethical reasons. You don’t necessarily need to love animals to treat them with kindness and respect – it’s just the right thing to do.
Being a patient communicator is essential. If you’re interested in meeting extraterrestrials and communicating with them, how well are you doing with other lifeforms on Earth?
Early on in veganism it can be very difficult because you’re learning so much about how horribly animals are treated around the world. You might witness or see videos of some of the cruelest acts you can imagine. And you really want to tell everyone what’s going on and want them to care as deeply as you do. But you might be talking to someone who can barely afford to put food on their table, or someone from a broken home or maybe it’s someone trying to get a college degree.
There’s a myriad of life’s obstacles that we’re all thinking about and dealing with at any given time. You really have to meet people where they are at. Humans are animals too and finding compassion for humans was one of the best things that has happened to me.
Q: I saw you were recently filming for Mercy For Animals with Harley Quinn Smith and Kevin Smith. Can you talk about that experience?
A: Oh yes, that was awesome. I had filmed with Harley Quinn a few months before and I had to nerd out and tell her I was a big fan of her dad’s movies. It was extra special to get to film with both of them. Kevin was seriously cool and he told this very emotional, funny and moving story about almost dying from a heart attack.
The intimacy that is involved with documentary filmmaking is truly the best part. Getting to hear peoples stories and to have them trust you with that is crucial.
Q: People can also check out a BTS video from David Lowery’s beautiful film ‘A Ghost Story’ that you have put on Vimeo. Can you tell us what it was like to be on set for the film and any memories you have from it?
A: I was in Dallas to premiere my film Bloody Barbara at the Oak Cliff Film Festival and David started shooting A Ghost Story that very week. It was pure coincidence and a really special time.
David had just sent me the rough script for A Ghost Story and it was only 33 pages long a few months earlier. Pete’s Dragon had just finished post production and was just a few weeks away form being released. The idea was to pretty much make a homemade movie with friends in this window of time. Then it had the benefit of having huge celebrities like Rooney Mara involved.
It was really cool, the entire thing. A lot of people just could not believe he was making this film until literally the first day of production.
On the second day of the shoot, I remember Casey Affleck saying he didn’t realise this film was really going to happen until a couple days ago. The biggest concern was the ghost, would it just be laughed at? Would it work? I mean, they were still figuring out the ghost stuff after the shoot had started.
The cool thing I remember is Shane Carruth was on set for at least a day – I loved Upstream Colour and of course Primer. Shane was at least going to start the editing process of A Ghost Story, so he was looking at dailies. It was kind of a trade since David helped edit Upstream Colour.
The other big memory is the costume dept needed pants for Casey, the shorts he had just weren’t working. I personally hate shorts and don’t even own a pair, so I get it. Well, for some reason they loved the pants I was wearing, which were a real nice broken in pair of brown Dickies, so I went into the wardrobe room with David Lowery, Casey Affleck, and Annell Brodeur who was doing costumes. Casey took off his shorts, I took of my pants and we swapped. He loved my pants.
If you watch the little video I made you, can see him trying them on around the 4:50 mark. So I had to wear shorts around for the rest of the day. And even though I loathe shorts, I was far too excited that my pants, which I had five matching pairs of at home, would be in the flick. Anell sent me those pants back a few months later and I’ll be sure to frame them one day.
Q: You’ve always found compelling subjects for your work. What kind of stories do you want to tell in the future?
A: I love filming with really inspiring people, often with people who have never been on camera before. Documentaries can be a very collaborative process between the subjects and the filmmaker – that’s always what I strive to do.
I like finding the stories I’m not out to get. I’m often drawn to social justice activism, environmental issues, and animal protection stories. I love when activism intersects. It’s really important to find those bridges and how we can work together as activists, and to be forgiving when we don’t align on every single issue.
I love approaching an interview as someone who is listening, someone eager to learn, really with a goal to be respectful and sensitive to the conditions at that very time.
I have a new video with Chef Chew, who lives in Oakland, and his focus is on getting healthy plant-based foods into food deserts. He has a restaurant called The Veg Hub and it’s very community focused. I really knew very little about food deserts before filming with him and it was seriously an eye opening experience.
I’m also filming some little docs on David’s upcoming movie The Green Knight, so keep your eyes peeled for that.