Hurricane on the Bayou (2006)
(Release Date: July 29, 2006 [New Orleans, Louisiana])

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When the levee Breaks...

J.C. Mašek III... 

From Louisiana!
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

Any Louisianan will tell you that North Louisiana and South Louisiana aren't the same place. Sure, that could be said for most states, but in actuality, North and South Louisiana are practically different countries. When my family and I moved to Southern California in 1998, it was North Louisiana we left. When we would see Jazzmen from New Orleans after the move, they'd call us "Yankees!" New Orleans was a place of beauty and fun to visit, and one of the only places I could truly see myself living. The motivation was to move on, though, and after all... New Orleans would always be there, right?

Our extended family warned us of what anyone moving to California gets warned of... Earthquakes. I frequently countered that at least we wouldn't have to worry about Tornadoes and Hurricanes anymore. That's not really the truth, though, is it? We'd survived our Tornadoes (for me, this included having a tornado mercifully bypass a trailer I was living in at the age of six), but Hurricanes were primarily always the danger of the coast... of New Orleans.

Hurricane on the Bayou, the IMAX documentary by director Greg MacGillivray and writer Glen Pitre tells an often overlooked side of the Hurricane Katrina disaster and its affect on New Orleans and its surrounding areas. As a documentary it doesn't overlook the fact that, even buffered by somewhere around 1882.3 miles [as I am], Hurricanes are still something to worry about. Practically everyone in the country suddenly was. It also doesn't overlook the fact that New Orleans might not always be there... in fact, Bits of the land surrounding New Orleans is being lost each day (since 1930, a lost area larger than the state of Delaware, we're told).

Hurricane on the Bayou begins as a giant screen documentary on the loss of Wetlands, focusing primarily on their incredible beauty. It depicts the clear waters of the wetlands and the wild, wild, wildlife that lives there. Though narrated by Meryl Streep, the tale is told primarily through the eyes of a fourteen year old fiddle player named Amanda Shaw and her Cajun bluesman friend, activist Tab Benoit. They begin three months before Katrina (meaning well before anyone even knew she was coming), exploring the marshes and focusing on what has caused their loss and how their loss has contributed to the dangers of Hurricanes (Hurricane Audrey from fifty years prior is used as a prime example). They also focus on the great city of New Orleans, its history, food and people and how those people may have contributed to the present state. And... being musicians, they also focus quite a bit on the music of New Orleans, particularly on their friends Chubby Carrier and the great Allen Toussaint.

The city, the music, the food... it's all a part of their friends and family... and the danger is part of life. Then Katrina came.

Seeing the beauty of the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the Wetlands and the city itself on the IMAX screen was enough to bring a tear to the eye. Seeing the same sights after Katrina's wrath... you couldn't stop the tears from coming!

Was this more so for my family and I? Perhaps. I was seeing roads I drove on and sidewalks I walked on (probably drunk). Hell, I saw the ruined Joy's Cinema, a business opened by a man I used to work for. In truth, one doesn't have to be from either half of Louisiana to feel the pinch of sorrow and pain that Hurricane on the Bayou lays bare on that giant screen. The human story isn't ignored, even... especially as the aftermath of the storm is explored in the Bayou itself.

MacGillivray and Pitre don't spend time bashing Nagin or Bush or anybody else in the wake of the storm. Instead, the storm is treated as a devastating truth that must be overcome. The original focus on the Documentary isn't lost, however, and the faces and voices we meet here continue to show how they believe preparation and conservation can help lessen the impact of future storms of this kind.

While the evidence is very convincing, and I personally was swayed by their arguments, the makers and stars of Hurricane on the Bayou do come off as having a bit of a mixed message at times. This is most certainly understandable, as Katrina fractured their film halfway through. To concentrate on only the human wreckage would be to abandon the original project. To focus on the original project would be callous and nearly impossible to palate. However, the use of computer animation, though of very high quality, to depict some of the wreckage as it happened helps clue one in that a bit of this film is reenacted. Certainly not a lot! The stars of this film are real people with real human reactions. But occasionally it seems clear that a just a bit of staging has taken place for maximum effect.

But Maximum Effect is achieved here. This isn't an easy film to watch. That said, it is a film filled with Hope. For every statement of despair, there is a suggestion for how to move forward. For every mention of loss, there is evidence of how other impossible scenarios have been overcome in the past. Hurricane on the Bayou has a title that seems to say it all... but there's a lot more to this than meets the ears and eyes... just like its subject matter. I'm going back to visit this month... I'm the groomsman at my oldest friend's wedding in Baton Rouge... the Bachelor Party is in New Orleans. I may not live in either half of Loozianner anymore, but there's a big part of me that never left.

Four Stars out of Five for Hurricane on the Bayou, the powerful film on the giant screen about piecemeal loss, damage on a major scale and the ability and will to pick up the pieces, and lay down the new soil and keep on moving forward, maybe with just a little more spice in the gumbo and just a little more swing in the Zydeco. I'll see you in the next reel... and God Willing, that next reel will be showing at Joy's Cinema, New Orleans.

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Hurricane on the Bayou (2006) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
who is alone responsible for his reviews
And... for the Beads he's throwing around right now...
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