Water balloon doc captures quirkiness of Cordova

Posted 5/11/18

Several summers ago, Zac, Wyatt and I took nightly walks through downtown Cordova. One evening we were catching our breath at the top of the hill next to Long Memorial United Methodist Church when we …

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Water balloon doc captures quirkiness of Cordova

Posted

Several summers ago, Zac, Wyatt and I took nightly walks through downtown Cordova. One evening we were catching our breath at the top of the hill next to Long Memorial United Methodist Church when we noticed a pickup truck attempting to cross the railroad tracks in the center of town.

A crossing gate was blocking the driver's path even though there was no train in sight. Occasionally, the red warning lights would stop flashing and the gate would lift an inch or two, only to slam down near the truck's hood as the driver tried to shoot across the tracks.

Several people we knew passed through the intersection during the few minutes that we remained at the top of the hill. Each one greeted us and then remained stopped for a few extra seconds in order to watch this Candid Camera-like comedy unfold with us.

Only in a small town, possibly only in my town, could people derive so much entertainment from a malfunctioning crossing gate. 

All of us who grew up in Cordova eventually realize that there is no place like it.

Only in Cordova can you buy gas, a six-pack, a tanning package and rent a movie, a wrecker or a Hummer limo from the same guy.

Only in Cordova do members of the local fire department rush to your house still dressed in drag from a womanless beauty pageant when you text one of them with a medical concern.

Only in Cordova does chasing an emu around the football field count as a homecoming week activity. 

Only in Cordova is Halloween night associated with pelting people with water balloons.

Filmmaker and Cordova native Jamie Jean has been working on a documentary about the city's annual water balloon war for the last year.

A rough cut of "Wind and Water Balloons" was screened at Cordova City Hall last week for the people who were interviewed for the film. My understanding is that a public screening will be scheduled once it makes the rounds of the independent film festival circuit. 

When Jamie and I talked about the project last May, I assumed that he would be making a lighthearted documentary about a quirky Blue Devil tradition.

However, he couldn't tell the water balloon story without exploring the day in April 2011 that changed the course of the city and its residents.

Jamie, who lives out of state, came into the film with a different perspective on the aftermath of the tornadoes than those of us who lived through that spring and summer in Cordova. 

His point of view was based on news reports that emphasized controversy over facts. He told me last week that interviewing locals gave him a more nuanced understanding of the FEMA trailer ban and the report of one of the city's four victims being turned away from Long Memorial UMC.

Jamie and his team didn't attempt to rewrite history or make any final verdicts on right and wrong, truth and rumor. They let everyone speak for themselves — the young man who lost his mother after he says they were turned away from the church, the pastor and church members who believe it was misunderstanding rather than malice, the former mayor whose outspokenness brought him death threats and the current mayor who admits that long-term recovery has turned out to be a longer and more complicated process than he first assumed.

The Cordova that Jamie and I know is not a perfect place, but neither is it the town that he saw unravel on his TV screen in 2011.

The highest compliment I can pay to Jamie is to say that his film captures Blue Devil nation in all its idiosyncrasies. 

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.