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Knee Deep: A Story of Action and Community

In 2013, catastrophic flooding tore through Colorado, severely affecting all of Boulder County.  The event was declared a national emergency, and over 19,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed. 

In response to this disaster, a small group of Boulder’s citizens banded together in a movement that began as a simple Facebook page designed to connect flood victims with the help they needed.  It quickly grew into a much larger effort, which was led by Aly Nicklas and later became known as the Mudslingers.

Today, Aly is working on a documentary film, titled Knee Deep, which will provide a detailed account of the event and its aftermath for people around the world.  We had the opportunity to speak with her about the project, and we’re very excited to share.

Here’s what Aly had to say about this highly anticipated film:

What sparked the formation of the Mudslingers (before the rain even stopped)?

Several of my friends were out slinging long before the rain stopped, and I saw so many people posting online about wanting to help. I was directly inspired by the efforts of those who were out helping already (including Mudslinger directors Tim Nickles and Larkin Carey) and saw a need for a platform to connect those who wanted to help with those who needed help. I started a Facebook page, having no idea that it would work. It grew quickly thanks to both social media and word-of-mouth, and within a few days, our group of friends was running a full-scale disaster response effort. It happened very organically—we never sat down and said, “We should start an organization.” There was a need in the community, and we did our small part to contribute.

You seem to place a very strong emphasis on community.  Where does that come from?

So much of what I have learned about community stems from the nearly ten years I’ve spent in Boulder. I moved around a lot before, and never really felt that connected, until I moved here in 2005. I became a climber, and that group of people really taught me a lot about the meaning of community. We really show up for each other, and it’s such a beautiful thing.

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Image Courtesy of KneeDeepFilm.com

But the biggest impact on my perspective on community came from the flood— I learned, perhaps for the first time, what it really means to make a contribution to your community and how fulfilling it is to do so. For the first time, my life wasn’t about me at all, and it was the most rewarding thing I’ve done yet. It took me 31 years to learn that, but I know I’ll carry it with me always. Watching the community show up in July to make this film happen through Kickstarter reinforced that, and frankly blew me away. I feel so honored to be a part of the Boulder community, and this ongoing effort is something I am absolutely committed to.

What were some of the biggest challenges faced by the group during the initial phases of the cleanup/relief process?

Not having a system initially—it was a bit crazy at first. Within a week, Slinger Dan Gish developed a simple but crazy effective website and system that made it much more orderly. We did our best to scout locations and be safe, and that was challenging, too, given the chaos that Boulder was experiencing. We also needed equipment that we didn’t always have, but whenever we asked for anything the community provided it—it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed.

Tell us about some particularly memorable moments or interactions that you experienced. 

I could write a book about all the moments, but one that really stands out was this man who lived in Four Mile Canyon. He came by while we were moving belongings out of this tipped-over house that was going to be demolished. He’d rescued the woman’s cat from that house during the flood and was the neighbor who was going out helping everyone else (but not asking for any himself). I really saw how hard it is to ask for help during this—those who needed it most often never asked—their friends or family reached out. I got it out of him that his house had some mud in it, and then learned that it was a lot of mud. We showed up the next day with 25 people. We shoveled out the several feet of mud that filled his entire house, but we couldn’t fix everything. His house was still in a creek, small at this point, and we couldn’t legally move it. It was frustrating, but at the end of the day, I got that while we couldn’t fix it all. We did what we could, and that had to be enough. We helped lift his spirits, and he told me that he didn’t feel alone for the first time since the flood. It makes it all worth it, those moments. We had this impact in the physical realm, but it was the emotional impact that inspired me to make Knee Deep.

At what point did you decide to turn this into a film? 

Participating in this movement truly shifted something inside of me, and when I started thinking about making a film, things were winding down into winter. It took me several months to catch up on work and recover emotionally from the flood, so I let the idea sit with me. I talked about it, certainly.  This spring, I felt revitalized and ready to take it on fully. It’s something I feel compelled to do—as a filmmaker, I’m committed to telling stories that have the opportunity to impact positive social change.  That’s what this is. It’s a powerful space to be in as a filmmaker as well, being both a central character as well as the director. It’s a challenge I’m inspired and thankful to be taking on.

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Image Courtesy of KneeDeepFilm.com

Will this organization continue to operate in the future, in the event of a similar national disaster? 

I believe so, yes. If there is volunteer energy and we can be of service, I feel confident that we’d rise to form again. We have such an incredibly dedicated volunteer base, and now we have the system (and shovels!) to make it a more seamless process.

The film’s website mentions that you are interested in garnering sponsorships from local Boulder businesses.  What does sponsorship entail (cost, benefits, etc)? 

If businesses are interested in learning more, we have a sponsorship deck we’re happy to send with all of those details. We’re still fundraising for post-production costs, and it would be awesome to continue to make this a community-based endeavor by working with local businesses to make it happen.

Are there opportunities for Boulder locals to participate in any way other than monetary donations? 

If anyone wants to volunteer their time to help mail out rewards from the Kickstarter we’d love the help! All kidding aside, the next several months are going to be spent cranking on the film, and once it’s finished we’d love to pull interested folks in to participate in planning and executing a few local screenings. If folks are interested in hosting their own screenings or at their business (or schools), we’d love to arrange for that next year, as well.

When is the anticipated release date for the film?

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Image Courtesy of KneeDeepFilm.com

Our planned release is early next summer. We’re shooting to have it done this spring, in order for it to be released initially in film festivals. We’re throwing a backers-only screening here in town first (there are still tickets available—please contact us through the website if interested).

I’d also like to throw a larger screening for the public next summer, or perhaps during the second anniversary of the flood.

Do you have any other film projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

I grew up in Alaska, and our next project takes place there. It was pushed back by the flood (our second team meeting was Thursday during the flood and we had to cancel since we were all marooned in different parts of Boulder).  I plan to revisit that project next year.

We’ll be exploring the status quo of Native Alaskans, which is all I’ll say about it now. It’s a project very close to my heart, and it’s the one that initially inspired me to become a filmmaker. I’ve been working and growing as a filmmaker in order to be able to tell that story in the way it deserves, and I’m excited to move forward on it next year.
Right now, however, everything is about Knee Deep!

Knee Deep Kickstarter // A short documentary about taking action from Just Rite Media on Vimeo.

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