Monday night, a new documentary created by Fred Woods and Christian Mawlam about the Teton Dam flood premiered at the Romance Theater.
The short film documentary titled Flood of Memories is a first-hand retelling of the Teton Dam flood that occurred on June 5, 1976, and the events that followed.
The flood began after bulldozer operators were unable to plug seepage holes in the dam, resulting in one million cubic feet of water per second. The flood caused millions of dollars of property damage, killed 11 people and over 16,000 livestock.
The film highlights what it was like to live through the flood, the family members that were lost in the tragedy and how the community banded together to recover and serve each other after so many were displaced from their homes. A number of the residents featured in the film shared their evacuation experience, many of them watched from the highest point on BYU-Idaho’s campus, as the homes below washed off their foundations.
After viewing the short film, there was a short Q&A with historian and film producer Fred Woods — a BYU professor of religion — and filmmaker Christian Mawlam — a BYU-I professor of communication. They each shared their experience making the film and talked about what the project meant for them personally.
“What we wanted to do was capture something in the essence,” said Mawlam. “And we didn’t necessarily want to have a narrator … but ideally we wanted to have it so the people who experienced it first-hand were able to share their accounts … we wanted to make sure we captured those stories [for] future generations in Rexburg.”
In addition to bringing a new perspective and historical account of the Teton Dam flood, the documentary also serves as an account of the volunteers from neighboring communities that banded together to help restore and revitalize Rexburg after the disaster.
“I wasn’t brought up a Latter-day Saint,” said Woods. “I have four different religious denominations in my immediate family … and going through many, many scores of interviews … one of my favorites was a gentleman who was the chair of the Interfaith Task Force for Relief who indicated that there were 30 different denominations and hundreds of churches that were involved … I just love these stories where people are covered in mud and there is one color of brotherhood … I just love anything that unifies a community.”
After the Q&A, a new painting by Anne Marie Oborn entitled Willing Hearts and Hands debuted. The five-foot-tall work of art was created to honor the volunteers who helped Rexburg recover after the flood and will be donated to the Museum of Rexburg.
Flood of Memories is part of a larger series called Saints by State, a BYU website project being done for the bicentenary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to Woods, it will be composed of “encyclopedic entries for each of the 50 states,” including chronologies, bibliographies and oral histories from members of the Church. It is planned to release in 2030.
Members of the community who may have an account of the Teton Dam flood are invited to contact the Museum of Rexburg to share their story.