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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, August 2006

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Just about a year ago, the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and the repercussions--socioeconomic, cultural, political and environmental--spurred a wave of documentary filmmakers to seek out the stories and histories that were coming out of the region. Next to 9/11, Katrina and its aftermath was the most cataclysmic event to have transpired on American soil this decade.

In the months that followed, organizations like the New Orleans Video Access Center and the National Black Programming Consortium stepped up with their respective projects, The Drive and The Katrina Project, while such New Orleans-based filmmakers as Stephen Rue and Gabriel Dayan shifted their doc-in-progress about Habitat for Humanity's efforts in the Ninth Ward to one about the destruction of a great American city: New Orleans Story.

In these pages we focus on other efforts over the past year to tackle the aftermath of this monumental event. Nancy Buirski, artistic director of Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, curated a special "Southern Sidebar" of documentaries that told singular stories about the lives of the survivors and the displaced. Ron Sutton talks to Buirski about her curatorial strategy and reports on a selection of films from that sidebar. Buirski also appointed filmmaker St. Clair Bourne to create a program entitled "Class in America," a collection of films, both old and new, which look at the class divide that was thrown into sharp relief last fall. Tracie Lewis discusses the challenges of mounting such a program with Bourne and Buirski and reports on what some of the filmmakers discovered in their queries into class in America.

Although Spike Lee has enjoyed a remarkably prolific career over the past two decades, When the Levees Broke is one of only a few documentaries in his canon. But the deeper he got into the process of making this film, the more he knew that a subject like post-Katrina New Orleans would warrant an epic treatment. He convinced HBO's Sheila Nevins to green-light what she deemed the cabler's "first Wagnerian opera." When the Levees Broke airs in August on HBO as a two-part, four-hour documentary. Lee, Nevins and producer/editor Sam Pollard share with Chuleenan Svetvilas their experiences and insights on the making of the film.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Greg MacGillivray was ensconced in Los Angeles, deep in post-production on an IMAX documentary about the erosion of the Louisiana wetlands. Two-and-a-half days later, he and his crew were in New Orleans documenting the devastation--and essentially remaking his film. Hurricane on the Bayou will screen at the refurbished Entergy IMAX Theater in New Orleans for a four-month run, beginning August 29. Bob Fisher has a conversation with MacGillivray about the challenges of reconciling his pre-Katrina film with his post-Katrina one.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White