"Kamp Katrina," a moving documentary about a small group of Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans, had its East Coast premiere at the Florida Film Festival recently. Ms. Pearl, a native American and lifetime New Orleans resident, offers her backyard garden as a temporary tent city for 14 residents who lost their homes because of the hurricane and subsequent flooding. For up to six months, Ms. Pearl and her construction-worker husband generously provide space, hot and cold running water, and comfort to the displaced survivors, many of whom have problems with substance abuse and mental illness.
As Ms. Pearl and her husband work to rebuild homes, they simultaneously try to rebuild the lives of the strange assortment of people camping in their backyard. They offer counsel and a room in the house to the pregnant woman (and her husband) who guzzle alcohol, smoke cigarettes, take crack cocaine, and fight with each other. They provide a safe place for the delusional man who claims to have an invisible girlfriend. Others, however, are forced to leave because of violence and theft.
A flamboyant dresser (and previous addict herself), Ms. Pearl has a colorful wardrobe and personality. When she's not marching in the Mardi Gras parade or the Day of the Dead celebration, she's either working with her husband at his remodeling jobs or scouring the ravaged city looking for food and supplies for her backyard tenants. They come to her for guidance, advice, food, and medical care. In this sensitive documentary, Ms. Pearl, a small 56-year-old woman, towers over the other people in terms of inner strength. While struggling with her own monetary problems and the emotional strain of being surrounded by death and destruction, she becomes everyone else's shoulder to cry on.
First-time director Ashley Sabin and "Mardi Gras: Made in China" director David Redmon, have created a gripping documentary about the fringe society that has nowhere else to turn for help. Quirky upbeat music, flashes of colorful costumes, and occasional bursts of humor elevate this tragedy to a mesmerizing study of humanity under the worst conditions.
Copyright 2007 Leslie Halpern
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