by filmmaker Leah Mahan

Derrick Evans and I met in the late 1980s while working as research interns for filmmaker Henry Hampton on the Eyes on the Prize series about the civil rights movement. He went on to teach in the Boston Public Schools and at local colleges and we remained friends over the years as I worked on my first two documentaries. Derrick often talked about his family in Turkey Creek, and about his childhood in Mississippi before he left with a scholarship to an East Coast high school. In 2001, after a decade teaching social studies and civil rights history, he asked me to make a visit to Turkey Creek to help him record oral history. Neither of us had any idea that trip would change the course of Derrick’s life and that I would spend the next decade following his story with my camera.

Derrick often recites a warning that his mother gave him when he began fighting to protect his community of Turkey Creek: “There might not be any bottom to this.” A dozen years later, her words hold special meaning for both of us. My film documents what seems like an unrelenting assault on this historic African American community on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, and it continues to this day. When I began filming, the precious place of Derrick’s childhood memories and family oral history was being overrun by urban sprawl, and then came Hurricane Katrina, and then the BP oil disaster.

Over the years we each had moments when we felt our efforts were futile. But both of us have been driven by the feeling that regardless of the outcome, the story of Turkey Creek holds powerful lessons, and the weight of responsibility we felt to see things through grew with each challenge the community faced.

When our nation’s largest natural and manmade disasters widened the scope of the film, Derrick’s personal journey and my perspective as a narrator became important storytelling tools, to ground the story with a central narrative and point of view.

The title, Come Hell or High Water, describes not only the strength and perseverance of the Turkey Creek community since the days of Reconstruction, but Derrick’s determination to bear the weight of his responsibility as a native son and my commitment to tell the story.