Perspectives have changed in New Orleans since the International Human Rights Film Festival was launched four years ago. Since Katrina, the plight of New Orleans has been described using language one might expect to hear used regarding any large-scale crisis around the globe, from the immediate need for things as simple as bottled water to the plight of displaced people struggling to return home and the need for security and medical care.
The New Orleans Human Rights Festival (April 12-22) begins this week and screens films about New Orleans post-Katrina right alongside films from around the globe about topics like discrimination, poverty, political prisoners, environmental disasters and war.
"We wanted to highlight local films and international films," says Jordan Flaherty, one of the festival's founders and organizers. "We've got films by locals on things like housing and criminal justice and also strong films from the Middle East."
Kamp Katrina is one of the new films showing at the festival. It's about how some people lived a fairly hand-to-mouth existence in the months after the storm.
Filmmakers Ashley Sabin and David Redmon had already made a film partially shot in New Orleans and had local contacts. Mardi Gras: Made In China was a well-received festival circuit film in which they traced a strand of plastic beads back to the factory where it was made in China, filling out the details in a story of the strange links forged by the global economy. Just three weeks after the storm, the two returned to New Orleans and reacquainted themselves with former friends and subjects, including Bywater resident Linda Pearl Scott.
At first the two filmmakers spent a lot of time at the encampment in Washington Square in the Marigny, where volunteer groups were providing meals. A couple of days after Hurricane Rita struck southwestern Louisiana, Ms. Pearl, as she is known, volunteered to let people live in a lot adjacent to her home. Things were off to a good start as volunteers from Food Not Bombs cleared the yard for her and people including local bohemians and those who had come to help the city recover set up another small tent encampment, which was dubbed Kamp Katrina. Redmon and Sabin also moved there.
"We had been filming for a while, but that's when we found our story," says Sabin. "We spent six months filming life in the yard. We did it all cinema verite; there were very few interviews."
The two shot more than 200 hours of film as conditions became more complicated by the slow pace of recovery and high levels of stress and wear. Though conditions in the city improved, the film captures the toll of living in the camp where alcohol and stress contributed to a decline in the little community's core. The film debuted recently at South by Southwest in Austin. The two have plans to make a third film in the city.
Films in the festival cover a wide spectrum including documentaries and fictional pieces, short and feature-length movies, English language and foreign films and all sorts of subjects. Festival organizers received more than 100 submissions for inclusion and pursued other films. The festival is an inclusive, cooperative venture. Ash Cultural Arts Center and Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center donated space to the festival. Some organizing contributors like Amnesty International and the ACLU have helped secure some of the films.
The festival's opening night at Canal Place Cinema presents a program of short films made by New Orleanians and was curated by local filmmaker Courtney Egan. There are films made by New Orleans high school students and storm-related works. Katrina Story was made by bounce rapper 10th Ward.
International films include Bamako about a bar singer living in Mali as it is crumbling beneath debt and the pressures of the global economy. Garlic and Watermelons is about gypsies in Greece. Falluja looks at the U.S. Army's campaign to subdue Shiite factions in the city of Falluja in the current Iraq war. Salud is about the health-care system of Cuba and is narrated by Danny Glover, who will introduce the film at the screening. There are also stories from Europe, Vietnam, Mexico, Cameroon, Iran and the United States.
Other events at the festival include a concert by Toshi Reagon, a singer recently signed to Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. The performance (8 p.m. Friday, April 13) at Ash is a benefit for several women's health groups in the city, including the New Orleans Women's Clinic. For more information about films, venues, events, special guests, schedules and participating groups visit the Web site www.nolahumanrights.org. New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival
April 12-22; www.nolahumanrights.org
Individual tickets $6, festival pass $40
- White Feathers is a short film about a woman seeking to overcome her past and find acceptance in her community.