Sunday, June 21, 2009

"The china cabinet don't have no business bein' over there!"

A reaction to When the Levees Broke
This was the second time I watched Spike Lee's documentary about New Orleans' struggle with Hurricane Katrina. The first time I watched this film I was overwhelmed by the despair of the people. The storm's victims ranged from people displaced in an unfamiliar state to those that drowned in their own attics. The first time I watched this film I was outraged by the failure of the United States' government. FEMA was a disaster throughout the aftermath. How could it take five days to supply basic aid to the hundreds of thousands of people in need? How could the Canadian Mounted Police be New Orleans to before the our own government agencies? The first time I watched this film I was left feeling sorry for all the people that were affected. So many lost so much and were left feeling helpless. Nearly five years later Katrina is still claiming victims through poverty, depression and suicide. Few people could be able to watch this film without being overwhelmed with feelings of sorrow and outrage.

The second time I watched this film I was able to look past the shocking footage and undeniable facts proving incompetance and failure. This time I saw the story each person was telling. This time I saw the stories that weren't being told. Spike Lee took on a massive project and told the story that needed to be told, the story of the victims. These people were left behind, they were left to fend for themselves and they were left feeling like nobody cares. The story Spike Lee told is about those that lost their homes, those that lost their families and those that lost their lives. Everyone needs to hear these stories and they need to remember them.

The second time I watched this film I began to wonder about some of the other stories. What about those that got out? Were they able to go back and rebuild? Were they able to leave and return simply because of money? What about those that stayed and didn't lose anything? The French Quarter and other wealthier parts of New Orleans were largely unaffected. How are these people coping with the change their city has gone through. What about those that stayed and tried to save lives? The Police and Fire Departments were there. They were in boats trying to rescue as many souls as they could. They were fighting fires while the waters rose. How were they able to do that while they were unsure if their own families were safe. Some of these public servants were ordered to protect property from potential looters in what must have seemed like a futile task. How do they feel about doing their job even though they knew they could be doing more to help? What about the people who came to help in the aftermath? What about everyone else?

Both times I watched this film it took Spike Lee over four hours to tell the story of just one group of people. How long will it take to tell everyone ele's story? Will they ever be told? They can't all be told. I hope more are. This month at least nine more stories will be told. Our stories may not revolve around Katrina but they will all be affected by it, some more than others. I have no intention of looking for Katrina in the firefighters and others I talk to and photograph but I know she'll stick her ugly face in there. I just hope I can make her a little better looking.

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