Laura CliffordFour months after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast the terrain still looked like a war zone. Filmmakers Lucia Small and Ed Pincus took to their car, with cameras loaded, and traveled across the country to those places where the victims came to stay following the disaster. They chronicle the stories of these survivors and their harrowing experiences in The Axe in the Attic.”
Small and Pincus, on their limited budget, trek form Pittsburg to Cincinnati, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and, of course, New Orleans in there quest to get the survivors of Katrina to tell their stories. Their journey, though, turns into more than victims accounts of tragedy and loss. It also shows the effect the stories and the relentless landscape of disaster and suffering have on the documentary filmmakers. The result is a mixed bag of a film that benefits from its socko finale.
The Axe in the Attic” is a case where less would have been more. As Small and Pincus move from one city or town to the next, we meet a litany of those whose lives have been brought to near ruin (and, often, complete ruin) by Mother Nature and the inept neglect of the federal government in the guise of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Some, though few, were able to rebuild their lives. Most interviewed, at the time of the video recording, are still mired in a bureaucratic nightmare where they are force to live in FEMA-supplied trailers and, even, tents. And, this is goes on for months after the disaster struck.
Talking heads telling about their tragic losses, people digging through the debris that were once their homes, the anger that engulfs them are all very interesting but it gets repetitive. The filmmakers want to give shrift to all of the victims but, at nearly 2 hours long, “The Axe in the Attic” loses steam, making me zone out after a time. Here is a case where some judicious editing – or, leaving the filmmakers’ own emotional involvement out of the finished product – would have made a tighter, more effective documentary. Still, it is a staggering account of personal tragedy and the government’s failure to provide immediate (and later) assistance following the massive storm.
A more fully realized approach to the Katrina catastrophe is Spike Lee’s 4-hour HBO presentation, When the Levees Broke.” But, the dedication of Pincus and Small is no minor achievement, making us see, anew, the aftermath of natural disaster and its impact on so many. I give it a B.
One would think there would be little left to say about Hurricane Katrina after Spike Lee's magnum opus for HBO, "When the Levees Broke," but New England's Ed Pincus (1967's "Black Natchez") and Lucia Small's (2002's "My Father the Genius") intimate road trip covers a wide spectrum of displaced refugees as well as the efforts and travails of those who've stayed behind. The filmmakers decision to incorporate their own filmmaking differences distracts and takes the documentary off track in its second half, but a damning look at one person's dealings with FEMA raise interest again for the film's conclusion (as does one Lower Ninth Ward survivor's eloquent definition of 'neighborhood'). The regional flavor of the film (the duo stop in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky) is also a highlight, and there is a two-sided irony in the fact that the most content displaced subject (Pittsburgh's Laurel Turner - thrilled to experience snow) is the one closest to the filmmakers own homes. B
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