"Life is won by those who show up." These are the words filmmaker Mike Shiley lives by. Shiley was at the University yesterday to screen his film "Dark Water Rising: Survival Stories of Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues," a documentary about animal rescues during Hurricane Katrina. A resident of Portland, Ore., Shiley packed his bags three weeks after Hurricane Katrina and headed to New Orleans where he lived for a month. He said he originally wanted to make a film on the people of New Orleans, but his focus shifted toward documenting the efforts of the volunteers who rescued the thousands of animals left behind in the storm. Shiley said this was the nation's largest pet evacuation ever with more than 50,000 animals left behind. "FEMA wouldn't allow people to take their pets with them," Shiley said. "Our psyche and well-being is tied to our animals. People don't realize this." Shiley's film has been screened in many festivals, including the 2006 Australian International Film Festival and the 2006 Avignon/New York Film Festival and is now a permanent component of the Smithsonian's Hurricane Katrina archival collection. Shiley said the academic community is the target market. He said he has spoken and screened his films almost 500 times at performing arts centers and universities across the nation in order to educate people about real-world issues. "The mainstream media has failed us," Shiley said. "They don't show us what's going on. I try to tell the behind-the-scene story. Nobody tries to educate you on the other stuff." Formerly an employee of corporate America, Shiley quit his job to pursue a newfound interest: voluntarily placing his life in danger in order to tell the story. Shiley has traveled to 38 countries, creating documentaries for the past five years. Shiley, who calls himself an "ambulance chaser who crashes the big news stories of the world," said he tried to tell the truth about animal rescues during the storm in his film. "I'm trying to tell the uncensored truth not pointing fingers at Louisiana, Bush, FEMA or Nagin," Shiley said. "It's just the story of 50,000 animals and 2,000 volunteers." Aside from "Dark Water Rising," Shiley has made five documentaries including "Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories." "I spent half of the film walking the streets of Baghdad talking to people," Shiley said. "Then I was embedded in the U.S. military and trained and became a gunner on a tank." Shiley, who was able to make these films by using a homemade press pass, lived in Iraq for a month. He went through a 90-minute training program during which he performed missions with the military. He received two civilian combat medals for his efforts. "Content is the biggest thing," Shiley said. "If you want to grow as a filmmaker, make good films and people will come see them."
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