"Underbelly Up is an autobiographical work that seeks to cope with the film maker's personal and deeply surreal experience of the flood by producing something of the same intensity-in the director's words, a "hallucinatory visual landscape"particularly with regard to the order and disorder of things. The result is a reflection upon "tangibility, dream spaces, hoarding, fragmenting, and media-made-self."

– Bruce Lampros
Art Papers, May/June 2016


Making Underbelly Up

Josh Yates discusses the events that influenced his film Underbelly Up that premiered at Indie Grits 2016. 

I woke up to a phone call from my friends Adam and Matt telling me they were in a cabin that was filling with water. Adam then sent me a video of water flowing across the floor. For there to be water at their feet it meant the water had risen about 10 feet. Apparently Matt had passed out in a chair and woke up because his feet were submerged. 

Bill (Adam's brother) and I quickly got dressed and began a trek through raging water atop what used to be a driveway. It was surreal. There were no lights, just moonlit shadows and intensely loud sounds of moving water. We had to yell to communicate. Bill and I buddied up, arms over shoulders, and slowly moved toward the cabin, trying to get as close as we could. 

We reached a point where the water was too deep, enough for our heads to go under, but we were close enough to talk with Adam and Matt. They stood on the porch and I'm pretty sure we awkwardly laughed together. Luckily they found a rope that they threw to us and we then tied to a tree. Adam and Bill made it to higher ground, but Matt and I lost our footing and we were temporarily separated. We both individually used the tree line as anchors to make our way to safety. 

Once dry and back inside, we sat around my living room and talked about what had just happened. We repeated the same story over and over, slowly convincing ourselves this crazy experience had actually happened. I'm fortunate our friend Tony slept on my couch and wasn't with us. I can't imagine navigating through that water with another person. It's still hard to grasp how everything somehow worked out. Another person, having a pet with us, a momentary loss of footing…all of these possibilities could have negatively affected the outcome. I wish I had recorded our hours of conversation that morning, but I didn't.

This experience led to my ongoing oral history project in which I’m conducting audio-only interviews with community members directly affected by the flood. My intention is to donate this collection to the USC Libraries’ Office of Oral History. This work in addition to my personal experience served as inspiration for my new experimental nonfiction film Underbelly Up. While the soundscape synthesizes my oral history work through improvisational dialogue, the visuals draw from an archive of flood-related imagery, filtered through analog modulations and hand-processed 16mm celluloid.

– Josh Yates, Nickelodeon Theatre Filmmaker-in-Residence 2015-16
Article from Nick Mag, Summer 2016, Issue #005

Three oral histories out of a collection of interviews from the Waterlines Project that Josh is donating to the USC Libraries’ Office of Oral History. These interviews inspired the language and imagery used in Yates' experimental film, Underbelly Up (as seen above).