July’s Featured Expat: Chip Gubera (by Rachel Crow Deyo)
Expat and Media Professor at MU, Chip Gubera has written and directed many full-length and short films and drawn inspiration from various aspects of his life and the world around him. His family, current political atmosphere and even 9/11 and the responses to the war on terror became ideas and themes in some of his creative works. However, nothing moved him more than the tragedy that
devastated his hometown on May 22, 2011 that sparked the creation of his latest documentary Joplin: A Tornado Story.
Gubera, a 1994 graduate of Joplin High, has many fond memories of his growing-up years and playing music with great friends in several local bands in the early 90′s. He remembers the music scene during that time as fun and creative playing with bands like Kaos, Why?, The Chickens and even
Big Bad Chubba for a brief time.
“I was a punk kid when I left Joplin, still one at heart I suppose,” Gubera said. “I really did not understand the professional world or how to really take care of myself, that things wouldn’t just happen. I had a lot of growing up and learning to do, but I had a dream and I wanted to be creative.”
Gubera left MSSU at the beginning of his junior year to transfer to MU to study film-making. This led to many professional opportunities including a faculty position of the IT program teaching media and post film production.
Gubera on set
Gubera currently lives in the art district of Columbia Missouri within walking distance from the university where he teaches. He and his girlfriend of 11 years, Mara Aruguete, live a fairly quiet life and even maintain a large vegetable garden behind their white-picket fence. Mara teaches Psychology at Lincoln University in Jefferson City and helps Chip with his films. It was in their quiet home, behind their picket fence that Chip heard the news about Joplin and the Ef5 tornado.
Alone on that Sunday evening with Mara away on a trip, Chip was trying to get his workout finished and shower before a large storm hit the area. He was still on his exercise bike when the local news team interrupted the program he was watching on TV to report that Joplin Missouri had been destroyed by a massive tornado.
“I was just pedaling away, not really processing what I had just heard,” Gubera explained. “I looked down at the timer and saw I still had 15 minutes left and then it hit me. I started making phone calls to my family but could not get through and I didn’t know what that meant. I got very scared.”
Gubera thought about all his family members who still lived in Joplin as he scrambled to get his hands on any information that might ease his mind. He looked online and found a twitter feed where people were asking for help in Joplin. He found a police scanner and and then tuned into the live feed
from the Weather Channel.
“The reality of the situation began to sink in,” Gubera said. “I got in my car and started to head for Joplin.”
Stopping just a few blocks from his home, Chip realized that he did not have a plan. He had not packed anything, had no idea what he would be walking into or if he would even have a place to stay. Reluctantly he returned home and once again tried to get through to his family and was able to leave a message for his mother. Three hours later she returned his call and gave him the news he had been anxiously waiting to hear.
“My family was lucky, and my mom was so calm,” he said. “She had checked on all the relatives and everyone was fine.”
The call was brief and cut off after just a few minutes. Chip stayed at home that night and watched as the internet fed him details of the disastrous event. The next day he listened to the live feed from Zimmer Radio in Joplin as he packed. He loaded his car with a chainsaw and bottled water and headed to his hometown on May 24 to help.
Chip could only stay in Joplin for a few days before obligations in Columbia required his attention. During the week he spent at home taking care of things in order to head back to Joplin, he communicated with his sister Kristin, an employee at Freeman Hospital.
“She [Kristin] said that everyone was talking and sharing stories of survival, hope and courage and that I should be down there with my camera documenting it,” Gubera said.
Kristin explained that people needed to talk and tell their stories and sharing them would be good for those individuals and for the community. Since Chip’s main skills were focused on video and film production and storytelling, this seemed like a great idea.
“This is a facet of what I teach and a way I could truly help the community,” Gubera said.
Replacing the chainsaw with his camera and audio equipment, he headed back to Joplin to help in the best capacity he could. Chip’s father, Dr. Conrad Gubera, a professor at MSSU had just returned from a trip to England where he had taken several students on an educational trip. He asked Chip if he could help film and accompanied him every time he went out.
“He started to really take on a producer role by introducing me to city officials, press and helped me get the majority of the interview subjects,” Gubera said. “It was a wonderful and rewarding experience for me to work with my father in this way.”
Chip began to shoot everything he could, not really certain about the direction or what the story would be. Once he began to collect interviews, the film started to take shape. Jeremiah Cook, local news reporter offered his knowledge of weather as well as his first-hand account as he experienced the storm unfolding while at work. Not only does he explain the science of the powerful tornado that
rolled through Joplin, he lends a unique and touching recollection of his thoughts and fears as he helplessly watched the twister move over parts of his town. He describes the reality of watching the destruction unfold where he new friends and family were working and staying and even his own home as he worried about the safety of his wife.
“I wanted to tell a story that made the people of Joplin three-dimensional,” Gubera said. “I wanted to paint a three-dimensional picture of the storm and the aftermath.”
Chip set out to answer questions about how a city, their government and people react after a tragedy and why Joplin had responded in such a heroic way. He wanted to know if there was a precedent, or characteristics in the community to explain what was happening. With the help of Brad Belk, Executive Director of the Joplin Museum Complex, an interesting theory arose. Joplin’s history of a mining town leads many to believe that the community has a legacy of strength and survival, stubbornness and pride. Chip believes it was these attitudes that he witnessed while growing up in Joplin that enabled people to react so heroically on May 22.
“Joplin is historically a hard-working, tough and strong town,” Gubera said. “I believe this is a part of who Joplin is today and it comes from a legacy of southern pride and honor. It is the thing that makes a man stand up for the honor of a woman, makes a mother teach her children manners and respect, makes a person stand up for what is right, work hard and provide for their families.”
Chip believes that we all [Joplin natives] have Southern roots whether we like it or not and he tries to exhibit those qualities in his everyday life. After viewing his documentary, a neighbor had these kind words to say to Chip:
“It now seems fitting that I met you shoveling snow off of my front porch!”
Joplin: A Tornado Story has been shown in several towns, including Columbia, Joplin, St. Louis and most recently, Chicago. The response to the film has been very positive and Chip has been pleased by audience reactions. He wanted to make the film as a honest as possible and answer so many questions people would have about such a tragedy.
“The screening in Joplin went great,” Gubera said. “It was emotional for most, but I was told that many found it cathartic as well.”
After the screening, time was allowed for a question and answer period. Many in attendance thanked Chip for telling their story, the real story of what happened in Joplin.
“Joplin is a fantastic town, a tough town, a strong town, a kind and welcoming town,” Gubera said. “It is my hometown that I am so proud to be from.”
Read more about Chip Gubera and his films at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1729116/