International Motion Art Awards: "Who Owns Water," a Doc in Progress

By David Schonauer   Friday January 17, 2014

Georgia, Alabama and Florida are locked in an epic battle over the fresh water from their once bountiful rivers, including the Chattahoochee—the waterway that photographers and filmmakers David and Michael Hanson remember from growing up in Atlanta. Now based in Seattle, the brothers returned for a 30-day canoe trip down the the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system to create a documentary film exploring the issues surrounding the so-called “Water Wars” of the South. Joined by photographer and filmmaker Andrew Kornylak, the trio pulled together an IMAA-winning trailer for a feature-length doc now being Kickstarted. To shoot the film, called Who Owns Water, the trio used cinema cameras, DSLRS, GoPros, and iPhones, and employed an innovative social-networking strategy to constantly upload production images to Instagram and Flickr while floating down the threatened rivers.


International Motion Art Awards
Who Owns Water
By David Hanson, Michael Hanson, and Andrew Kornylak

In the spring of 2013, photographers and filmmakers David and Michael Hanson began a 30-day canoe trip down the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, from its headwaters in North Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, a vast waterway at the center of a political and legal fight that could shape the future of the South. The brothers were determined to tell the story of the so-called “Water Wars” pitting cities against agribusiness and sportsmen, and they wanted to tell it from water level, where they could meet the people most directly affected by the struggle for this endangered resource. Along the way, they were joined by an old friend and colleague, photographer and filmmaker Andrew Kornylak.

“We wanted to bring a human element to a water crisis that, if publicized at all, is depicted in an overly political, legal manner,” says Kornylak, a past IMAA winner. “By filming ourselves paddling the entire river, we could tell the story from an adventurous, exploratory, and curious perspective.”

Now, nearly a year later, the filmmakers are crowdfunding post-production of their documentary, called Who Owns Water. The Kickstarter page for their campaign features the trailer they created in a marathon editing session—a piece of filmmaking that was named a winner of the International Motion Art Awards 2 competition.

The film is enlivened by the intimate, hand-held footage shot by the Hansons and Kornylak on their trip down the river system—a cinema verite-style matched by the first-person voiceover provided by David Hanson. Getting the video was a challenge, notes Kornylak.

“We shot this piece on a variety of cameras,” he says. “I was able to be more flexible with my choice of camera, so I shot on a Sony F3. Michael and David shot on Canon DSLRs and a Panasonic AC160. As photographers they were most comfortable shooting on DSLRs and have done many expeditions with this same gear. They shot a lot of themselves paddling and talking to the camera as well—sort of a running diary of the trip that ended up being a great vehicle to bring the viewer deeper into the story and the adventure in a natural and honest way. We also used plenty of GoPro Hero cameras.”

Keeping the gear dry was not always easy. “On the first day of the trip, David and Michael flipped in a Class III rapid of the Upper Chatahoochee,” says Kornylak. “They lost a tripod, and a watertight case leaked while the canoe was momentarily pinned against a tree, upside down. So David lost a DSLR and used the team's only backup for the remainder of the trip. It was a humbling lesson for a 30-day river documentary.”

Editing the material into a trailer was also a formidable task, made more difficult by logistics: The Hansons are based in Seattle, while Kornylak, the primary editor, lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “We did a lot of back-and-forth over email and the phone, and I finished the final edit on my own,” says Kornylak. “But for the feature edit, we realized it was going to be hard to have the kind of collaboration we wanted working remotely, so the Hansons flew to North Carolina, where we edited together in my living room for an intense two weeks in November.” With timelines posted on giant poster boards, Kornylak manned the computer keyboard while Michael Hanson researched film clips and music. Meanwhile, David wrote and recorded his voiceover.

One of the more innovative aspects of the project was accomplished during the canoe trip itself. “We used iPhones on the river to constantly send production shots to Instagram whenever we could,” says Kornylak. “That fed into a collection on Flickr. From time to time we would post an entry on our blog, using shots from the Flickr collection. Then we'd share that on Facebook and Twitter, or send material out for magazine publication. Recently a high school English teacher contacted us to invite us to speak to her class. They had been following our social media trail since the beginning and integrating it into their curriculum, examining both the water conservation issues and the journalism behind it. To me that was proof that these tools are so much more than just buzz-makers. They give your audience new entry points to the film.”




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