As soon as we started talking to survivors of the 2004 tsunami I realized that bringing their experience to a mainstream audience posed particular challenges. The fact is that most people have never experienced a disaster of the magnitude of a massive tsunami nor the types of losses attached to it. There was also the issue of asking survivors to revisit painful memories, and I wanted to be sensitive to that situation. After considering different approaches I decided to limit my questions to general topics and let each individual tell us as much or as little as they felt comfortable.
Another challenge was to structure the film in such a way that it provided a bit of historical context in addition to the direct testimony about the disaster and the aftermath. The civil war that was ongoing in Aceh at the time of the tsunami was an important component and I wanted to find the right place for it so The Tsunami of New Dreams would provide a comprehensive view of the effects of the tsunami in the coastal areas of the Aceh province.
We had limited time to film snippets of the survivors’ present daily lives, and recreated with drawn illustrations some of the events that they encountered during the disaster. The interviews try to emphasize new beginnings and a positive outlook on life in spite of the massive losses. They also provide some valuable information related to disaster preparedness. The subjects interviewed represent a balanced sampling in terms of geography within the city and surrounding impacted areas, age, gender, education level, occupation, income level and understanding of natural hazards.
We filmed a couple of city spots that experienced extensive damage and reconstruction, and coastline areas with evidence of possible past tectonic activity. We secured a fair amount of archival disaster footage from a number of local and international sources. The general context of the story is complemented with a small amount of Earth science information about historical tsunamis and about the Sumatran subduction zone and the Great Sumatran fault.