Documentary on PBS about how a river community improved the local economy

August 6, 2014

Portsmouth, Ohio – In 1937, after a devastating flood from the Ohio River in Portsmouth, Ohio, some of the citizens decided to do something about it. The Citizens Flood Defense Committee was formed and began its “It can’t happen again” campaign. Many floods had affected the area over the years.

The major project was to build a floodwall. The Army Corps of Engineers supervised the project and built a steel-reinforced concrete floodwall beginning in 1940 and dedicated in 1950.

The economy flourished at that time and then it crashed closing major factories and places where people depended on their income.

In 1992, a small group of community leaders asked, “How can we create pride in our community, improve the local economy, and change a dying part of town into the vibrant place it once was?”

New hope emerged when Dr. Lou Chabody and his wife, Ava, came up with the idea of having murals painted on the unsightly floodwall. They helped form a non-profit organization Portsmouth Murals Inc. to raise funds for the huge project.

A well-known mural artist, Robert Dafford, of Lafayette, Louisiana, was hired as lead artist for a 2,200-foot section of floodwall in town. The giant murals, that tell the history of the Portsmouth area, brought people from throughout the country into Portsmouth just to see the murals.

In 2002, historian John Lorentz, Ph.D., born and raised in Portsmouth, came up with the idea for a documentary, “River Voices: A Portrait of an American River Community.” The film was about Portsmouth and the ’37 flood.

Lorentz is professor emeritus of history and associate provost for International Education at Shawnee State University. He is the principle scholar and producer for the film.

At the time, the longtime historian had been collecting stories about the ‘37 flood that devastated the Portsmouth area.

“I realized that many of the people who were involved in the flood of 1937 were dying off,” Lorentz said. “I felt a need to begin recording their stories.”

He thought about putting the recordings in a depository at the local library as a part of the history of the area. At the same time, his son, Nathan, was getting a master’s degree in film and video production at the American University in Washington. At his graduation reception, Lorentz approached him about doing a film on the flood. Thus, the first film “River Voices” began.

When John Lorentz saw how successful the floodwall murals were in reviving the river community, he came up with another idea for a documentary and “Beyond These Walls: Building Community Through Public Art” was born – released in 2013.

“It tells a story in which the major theme is the role that public art has to play in developing a sense of community” John Lorentz said.

Nathan Lorentz is director, editor, and cinematographer specializing in documentary filmmaking. In addition to his work on “River Voices” and “Beyond These Walls,” Nathan Lorentz has served as cinematographer on a number of short films. Both films have been featured on Public Broadcasting Station WOSU-TV.

Mikael Jacobson, a Los Angeles area composer, music producer, adjunct music professor, and classically trained double bassist composed the music for the film. He has scored music for Lion’s Gate Films, Fox Entertainment and ESPN.

WOSU-TV has asked for distribution rights to the films and is presenting an encore presentation at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The national satellite feed to PBS stations nationwide for both of these films will be available beginning Aug. 16.

“Nathan and I are highly pleased that Portsmouth receives national exposure in a positive light,” John Lorentz said.

For information on the documentaries showing on your local PBS station, call the PBS station in your area.

For more information or to schedule a lecture and showing of either documentary, call Lorentz Productions at (740) 357-8003 or email The documentaries may be purchased on or