By Liam Saint-Pierre
I often find my most interesting stories in unusual places. Last year I went to Duluth, Minn., from my home in Britain to film Chris Plys, an Olympic curler. On my last evening, Chris began telling a story about his young friend Mike Marz, an amateur storm chaser in Minneapolis. Another local man had just reached out to Mike to see a tornado after he’d found out he had lung cancer. The man, Mark Zabawa, was a divorced, 60-year-old former serviceman and a recovering alcoholic. When I came back to Britain, I was determined to follow up and tracked Mike down on Facebook to discuss making a film about his experience of chasing storms with his new friend as he fought cancer.
Tornado season is mainly in May and June, and it was already late April, so I took a gamble. Digging into my savings, I booked my ticket to Minneapolis and headed out for two weeks, wondering whether the storm gods would smile and the story would bear fruit. Though we’d communicated only online, Mike (the amateur storm chaser) and Mark (recently finished with chemotherapy) were both welcoming, though I think they thought it was a bit odd for me to come all the way from London to film their antics.
The first week the weather wasn’t looking good, and the few storms we chased were a bust. (Not, I hoped, an omen for the fate of this film.) There was a lot of down time. Just as I was facing the possibility of going home empty-handed, three states away in Wyoming, the weather started looking good. Mike, overjoyed with anticipation of finally seeing a tornado, loaded up the car and we set out.
Whether it’s through hunting tornadoes or collecting stamps, we are all, I believe, searching for meaning in life. People find meaning in a singular love or passion, no matter how strange or dangerous it may be, that helps them to deal with the chaos of life. So while this film is about two men’s search for a tornado, it’s also about friendship. Adult men have long struggled to maintain meaningful bonds with other men, especially as they become older. Having a shared passion allows us to connect with others, even if it takes a tornado to do it.
Liam Saint-Pierre is a documentary and commercial filmmaker based in Britain. This Op-Doc had its premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. (Source: The New York Times Video)