Mary Ann Williamson on her short film, Packed, about fire evacuees and what they pack
Photo of the Fourmile Canyon Fire from Packed.
The Colorado Independent Women in Film program, an annual three-day event at the Bug Theatre that showcases the work of women in the Colorado film industry, opens tomorrow. Packed, a short documentary that follows evacuees of Boulder's Fourmile Canyon Fire in 2010 and describes the possessions they collected on their way to safety, is one of the first screenings that night. In just 23 minutes, more than 30 Boulder residents offer personal accounts of the items they chose to rescue, providing answers to this question: How do we place value on objects in the heat of the moment?
Westword talked with director Mary Ann Williamson to discuss the film's origins, the stories it tells, and the doc's future.
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Westword: Where did the idea for Packed come from?
Mary Ann Williamson: It came from my co-producer, Angie Burnam. After the fire, she was working in a "free store," where people donated things, and it was open to victims from the fire. She said she had a conversation with somebody about, "I wonder what these people took with them?" She told me about the conversation and we were looking for a project to do together... and we kind of looked at each other and went, "Wow, that would make a great film." The planets all kind of aligned. We started interviewing people about six weeks after the fire and we found out that they really wanted to talk. We got a lot more than we bargained for.
What were people's roles on the film?
How many people or families did you get a chance to film?
We talked to about 35 people -- some were single, some families.
What are some of the more compelling items or stories in the film?
One of our first interviews was with a woman named Joanne Cole. It was up in Gold Hill and the fire had literally been at their back door. They left and they thought it was gone. It turned out a flurry bomber dropped a line right at her back door. That was pretty dramatic. But one of the things that she said has kind of become the subtext for when we promote the film. She said, "When you have the luxury of time, that's when it gets difficult. You have to decide: what do I love, what do I want, what do I need?" That just summed up the whole film for us. Another thing that stuck out for me was how generous people were with their stories. To let a perfect stranger into their lives, into a really poignant, dramatic part of their lives. There were people who turned us down... but these interviews were just such a gift. It was a window into an event that hopefully most of us will never go through. We never would have had a film without them. I think, honestly, some of these people -- I realize, in retrospect, that's how some people process trauma: by talking about it. This was telling the story over and over again so they could figure out in their own minds how to cope with it.
There was a lot of gallows humor. People told me they didn't expect to laugh at a film that talked about the fires, but I think that's one of the ways people deal with it. People brought really funny, silly things with them. One woman brought her vacuum.
Maggie Simms in Packed.
One woman told me that she packed all her shoes in a big trunk. The trunk she used for her shoes had all her childhood memorabilia in it, which she dumped out to put her shoes in. One woman took her cowboy boots -- she had a whole collection of cowboy boots. Other people talked about, you know, you're supposed to have a list. And they said, "Yeah, I had the list but it just didn't make any sense to me. It didn't seem as valuable to me with the fire actually going on. I'd pick up something on the list and put it down." Again, I think it speaks to how altered your perceptions are when faced with pulling possessions out of your house.
Still from Packed
Was there anything you wanted to include but had to leave out for whatever reason?Yeah, some great interviews, some great quotes. When I originally envisioned the film, I thought five to seven minutes, though Angie always thought it would be longer. As I said when we got up there and people started talking, we ended up with twelve hours of footage and I realized it wouldn't be a five-to-seven minute film.
What's the next step for Packed?
At this point, we're just trying to get it out there. We're really focused on submitting to film festivals and local events. We have seen a lot more interest in it just because of these fires. We didn't really have any plans to go on with this line, with other projects that have to do with fires. I got really immersed in this world... but I don't have any specific plans yet.
We did get one grant from the City of Boulder, the Boulder Arts Commission. We did some fundraising, so people kind of jumped into the project financially. We got a lot of community support. Almost all the musicians donated their tracks. We got footage from a couple of independent videographers that was also donated. The Maria Rogers Oral History Program at the Boulder Public Library originally heard about the fact that we were shooting these interviews and they wanted to know if we would archive them. They set up a screening and they were very supportive of the whole project.
Is that accessible?
I think they're still in the process of archiving it. I had no idea that there was that resource, but we started talking to them and working with them.
Were any of the evacuees you spoke to able to return home after the fire?
There were six people in the film who lost their homes. Everyone else was able to go home. Including that woman I told you about, Joanne Cole. There was still flurry in their yard. You could see where the fire had come up in between their two houses. They were really, really lucky.
Packed and 27 other films will be shown this weekend at the Colorado Independent Women in Film program at the Bug Theatre, part of the Bug's recurring Emerging Filmmakers Project. Tickets for CIWF are $10 per block, $5 for students, and $15 for the whole program. Go to the Bug Theatre's website to learn more. In the meantime, check out the trailer for Packedbelow:
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