Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hurricane on the Bayou (but not in NY)

If an advocacy film does not play New York City, does it really make a statement? When Greg MacGillivray’s Hurricane on the Bayou, the IMAX film on Hurricane Katrina and the Louisiana wetlands was announced, it seemed odd that the film was not playing in the City proper. After all, eighty-percent of the writers interested in covering it (outside of Louisiana) could well be New York film and music journalists.

Since I happen to be in Denver, I was able to catch it. Hurricane is a mixed bag, but it deserves attention. The IMAX nature photography is quite impressive, and the gators steal the show. It starts with the weak conceit of following fourteen year-old fiddle prodigy Amanda Shaw as she assembles her school project on the shrinking wetlands. (Could the audience be treated as adults and not lectured to by a teenager?)

Hurricane was literally being filmed as Katrina hit, and when it did, all bets were off. We definitely see the storm’s fury and the human drama of the aftermath, which is moving. There is nothing like an IMAX screen to capture the enormity of the flooding.

Music plays a big role in the film. In addition to Shaw, we hear from New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, Zydeco musician Chubby Carrier, bluesman Tab Benoit, and gospel singer Marva Wright. We also hear some licensed Dr. John and a brief Ken Burns-style Louis Armstrong tribute.

Hurricane is best when it shows instead of tells. Benoit becomes the voice of the filmmakers, but he almost overstates his case. There are in fact some questions that could have been addressed. As Young and Bush wrote in the NY Times, Mississippi had the sort of barrier islands we hear advocated as a hurricane defense, yet Katrina hit there just as hard. Indeed, the floodgates also advocated in Hurricane are most likely the best defense.

That is not to say we should not work to restore Louisiana’s wetlands. They clearly play an important role in the state’s cultural and commercial identity. However, the state needs to carefully balance its priorities at this time. As Hurricane makes abundantly clear, another hurricane like Katrina will cause immense devastation. Still, if you are in Denver, or wherever, Hurricane is well worth seeing, particularly for the gators.