In 1980, the year before he was born, a tornado hit Blake Naftel’s hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The devastating event entered local lore and soon captivated the boy. As an adult, Naftel became a broadcast weather journalist and along the way entered a small but enthusiastic subculture of people who chase storms. This February in Denver during Chasercon, the National Storm Chaser Convention, he talked about his current undertaking, a documentary about six decades of storm chasing.
Funded by a $10,000 crowd-sourced campaign, Naftel took off 46 days last fall and filmed 73 people in 26 states and Canada. He says chasers have been romanticized on television and in such movies as Twister, and describes his film as “a matrix of stories to help humanize chasers.”
Naftel’s travels also yielded a wealth of film reels, videocassettes, and papers from those he interviewed. “I filled my Chevy Cruze,” he says, “and still had to ship home five boxes.” His long-range goal is a comprehensive digital archive of the material he has collected. Now at home in western Michigan, he is processing the footage (including conversion of old analog material to digital), editing his documentary, and planning its release late this year. “It’s our history, our roots, how we all evolved in our interests. The film shows what we’ve learned and the wealth of what we’ve provided to science over the years.”
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