"I wasn't affected by the flood, but like so many, I wanted to do something to help," Paul Catalanotto says.
The 37-year-old filmmaker from Natalbany used his movie-making talents to direct "When the Rivers Rise," a film about the August catastrophe from the perspectives of the Springfield Fire Department, whose volunteer members rescued residents for three straight days.
Accepted into the Louisiana International Film Festival in its Southern Perspectives category, the 58-minute film will be screened at 3:45 p.m. (sold out) and 4 p.m. Saturday at Cinemark Perkins Rowe. Tickets are $10.
Catalanotto received his bachelor of arts in mass communication and minor in marketing from Southeastern Louisiana University, and his master of fine arts in film production from the University of New Orleans. The self-employed, full-time filmmaker produces commercials, infomercials, documentaries, and music videos under the production company Untitled Films.
Catalanotto answers five questions for The Advocate:
1. How did you get into filmmaking?
I got into filmmaking when I first stepped into my advanced editing class at Southeastern Louisiana University. My professor, Dr. Joe Burns, had his curriculum set up where we would write, shoot, then edit short films. I loved it; I was hooked from that point on. For a short time after graduation, I dabbled in television, but eventually I made the leap into filmmaking when I was accepted into the University of New Orleans' Film Production graduate program.
2. How did you end up shadowing the Springfield Fire Department during the floods?
I actually did not shadow them, and that's what I think is most exciting about "When the Rivers Rise." The footage in the movie is from their cellphones. In every sense of the word, this movie is from their perspectives. I got involved in this project when Springfield first responder Josh Randall contacted me. He called me as the water was finally receding and asked if I would be interested in putting together a documentary from the footage they shot. I immediately agreed. After viewing the footage, I arranged to have the firefighters meet me for an interview. I recorded several hours of conversations and stories of the flood, and once done, I took the footage and edited it down to the present film.
3. How much time did you actually spend with them, and what struck you the most about the experience?
I've known these guys for several years at this point. I've done promo videos for them in the past, so when looking for a director for this project, I guess I was the most logical choice. Overall, the film took four to five months to make. The experience of making this film really highlighted the selfless nature of a firefighter. My hope is that when people watch "When the Rivers Rise," they realize what these men and women did. These firefighters put their lives on the line without a thought to their own. They saw people in need and helped. It's an amazing thing, and I hope it's remembered.
4. Is this your first film in LIFF, and has your work been in any other festivals?
"When the Rivers Rise" is my first film in LIFF. They have a reputation as being very selective, so you know when you watch something screening at their festival, it's top-notch. I've had plenty of other work make it into other festivals over the years. Film festivals and filmmakers go hand in hand. My documentary, "Painting a Normal Life," was screened at the New Orleans Film Fest; it even won best documentary at the 2016 University of New Orleans Film Fest. I have an Atlanta Hip Hop Award for best rap video and a Christian Country Award for best music video. I also won three ARC of Louisiana Media Awards for work I've done for TARC.
5. Your horror film "Sacrilege" will be available on Redbox May 2. Tell us about this one.
"Sacrilege" is a horror film and is my second narrative feature to receive national and international distribution. It is my first feature to land on Redbox, which for me as a filmmaker is huge. Redbox is everywhere, and as a company, they have gotten increasingly selective with what they put in their kiosks. My wife Mary and I started writing it in 2014. We shot the following year in Metairie and Hammond with the aid of the University of New Orleans. Hamp Overton, my major professor when I was a student at the university, thought "Sacrilege" would make a great learning environment for UNO students, so he and I teamed up to make this project and relationship happen. It was a hectic 11-day shoot, and I'm happy that the film has succeeded in getting out there and into the market.