When A Town Runs Dry: Interview with Director Joris Debeij
10th July 2019 by Will Stewart
When A Town Runs Dry documents life in Stratford, a small town in California’s Central Valley, where years of drought is threatening the livelihood of the community.
I was able to get in touch with director Joris Debeij to ask him a few questions about When A Town Runs Dry. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Please tell me a bit about yourself as a filmmaker, and how you got involved in film making. Is When a Town Runs Dry a typical example of your work?
Joris – In the Netherlands, where I was born and raised, I was a tape runner at 18 and later, a junior producer in the fast-paced newsroom of a daily current event show. I moved to Los Angeles and developed an interest in the expression of the individual in a social/cultural context. I started out shooting and editing short documentaries. The practice began to grow with each story, including this film.
It was essential to share multiple perspectives on the region’s circumstances and have the town and drought be the glue. I think as a filmmaker you are always evolving, and this film is one I look back at with a good feeling.
MadeGood – Do you have a personal connection to Stratford- how did you know about the drought and what made you want to make a film about it?
Joris – Living in Southern California, it’s hard not to notice the drought all around you, the lack of rain, prevalence of brush fires. I wanted to look beyond that and understand the economic and personal implications of such disaster. In my research, I stumbled upon a series of articles by Diane Marcum and photography from Matt Black, both of whom are active in the Central Valley. It’s a relatively small area that is responsible for a large part of the food that ends up on our plate. I also grew up in a small village of about a thousand people, and that made me want to reflect the lives, experiences, and perspectives of the people that work and live there.
MadeGood – You interviewed a variety of people in the making of this film, how did you find them and how did get them involved? Did you get the impression that they wanted their story to be told?
Joris – It was a combination of desk research and calls ahead of time and good old-fashioned knocking on doors. I always think it is crucial to invest time with subjects before creating the film. And that is what I did — it wasn’t until I’d visited multiple times that I felt ready to start filming. I think when a subject is universal, and almost everyone has something to say something about it, it is the job of the filmmaker to make something cohesive, something with a perspective, a story.
MadeGood – The film was made a few years ago now, what’s the current situation in Stratford?
Joris – The severity of the drought was extreme; many farms and businesses had to close up shop. The central valley needs a lot of rain for the groundwater levels to be up to par; this can take decades. This year we’ve had a good year of rain so far, so that is hopeful, and in the short term good, there is plenty to read on the long term, and it gets complex quickly when you get politics involved, but if the film has sparked an interest in the subject, I would highly recommend looking up the work of Diane Marcum and Matt Black who both continue to write about the Central Valley.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Joris – I’ve just finished up an episodic for a new streaming platform and am now focused on a documentary project with elements of live action and biographical, scripted material. The setting is one of the most notorious housing projects in Los Angeles, and it features a complex, but hopeful subject whose story and realities I am honoured to bring to awareness through film.
MadeGood – Nice one Joris! Can’t wait to see the next one.