Hurricane On The Bayou

Glenn Astarita By

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Hurricane On The Bayou
Hurricane On The Bayou
Macfree Films

Released in December 2006 for IMAX theaters worldwide and now on DVD, this film is narrated by actress Meryl Streep and lucidly reveals a disturbing but inescapable truth: Southern Louisiana's wetlands are vanishing. Created with the assistance of the Audubon Institute, the film conveys the region's troubled ecosystem through the stunning realism of stark images, firmed-up by aerial shots of Louisiana's waterways (bayous).

The film also provides first-hand accounts by those most directly affected by the change. Houma, Louisiana resident and well-known blues/zydeco rocker Tab Benoit provides insight into the present-day perils along with narratives of the region's history, hearkening back to the early French Settlers. The documentary, moreover, showcases the plight of Benoit's friend, teenage violin prodigy Amanda Shaw and her family, whose struggle with the ongoing debacle caused by hurricane Katrina is vividly presented.

But the film is not all about Katrina. In effect, the recent hurricane was the big one that many Louisianians anticipated; thus, the filmmakers offer viewers a perspective that reaffirms the reality as well as the totality of a dire situation. We learn as we see striking evidence: the wetlands have been shrinking for many years thanks to erosion and problems concerning the Mississippi River levee system.

The movie includes stunning footage of indigenous animals such as alligators nesting yet at the same time transmits the resilience and determination of the regional folk who are trying to raise awareness at the national and federal levels.

Benoit has been a major proponent for saving the wetlands by organizing music festivals, with aspirations of both getting the word and raising critically needed funds through album sales and music events, while additionally seeking financial support from major corporations. Some of the information is fascinating, such as the anecdote pertaining to the wetlands acting as speed bumps for hurricanes surging north from the Gulf of Mexico. And then there are the disturbing shots of post-Katrina devastation.

Ultimately, this movie captures the graveness of Louisiana's endangered ecosystem, where the still- present charm, mystery and beauty of these interconnected waterways communicate equal parts sadness and optimism. The film's soundtrack (available on CD) underscores the unique geographical and cultural elements of a region that is like no other. Sound bites of Dr. John singing "Iko Iko and eighteen musical pieces signifying Louisiana's signature Cajun-folk, R&B, traditional jazz and gumbo-funk generate an idyllic, if deceptive, underscore for a catastrophic state of affairs.

The film presents daunting challenges, especially when it exposes once-thriving neighborhoods reduced to rubble, further tainted by a naive outsider's notion that they've been vacant for decades. In sum, the filmmakers' gorgeous, probing photography in combination with historical and folksy commentary tell a tale of shame, sorrow and hope.

Production Notes: 40 minutes. MacGillivray Freeman Films with executive producer Audubon Nature Institute

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