Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Axe in New Orleans

By David Luhrssen
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The Axe in the Attic opens with footage shot four months after Hurricane Katrina in a misty, ramshackle district of Louisiana. The camera takes in the scene from above before proceeding at an elegant pace up a rutted road, past trees turned to kindling and the rubble of unrepaired houses.

Someone lived there once, and The Axe in the Attic worries that no one will ever live there again.

Like most of us, award-winning filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small were horrified by televised images of Katrina. They decided to seek out survivors, just some of the nearly half million refugees who fled the devastation for an uncertain future. Although resolutely determined to make themselves and their feelings part of the story, their documentary—really a road trip journal recorded on camera—is interesting for its many interviews with Katrina survivors.

Starting in Pittsburgh and working their way down Southern roads to New Orleans, Pincus-Small interview black and white refugees who long to go home and others resolved never to return. The stories are all individual. Some survivors found support from relatives who had moved north years earlier. Others were marooned in FEMA trailer camps in a state park, remote from any prospect of employment.

The title of the 2008 film (out now on DVD) comes from remarks of a former New Orleans resident who went through a hurricane-triggered flood in the ‘60s. Many survivors kept bottled water, canned goods and an axe in the attic, so they could break through the roof and cling to the top of their homes as the flood waters rose.

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