Amidst the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, stories of hope emerged. One such story, that of Ms. Pearl, is captured in "Kamp Katrina."
Co-directed by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, "Kamp Katrina" is the story of Ms. Pearl and her husband. The couple opened their backyard to 14 individuals in post-Katrina New Orleans in what became a tent city known as "Kamp Katrina."
The individuals who were welcomed into "Kamp Katrina" were invited to stay there for six months and, perhaps even more importantly, offered construction jobs and the chance to participate in the rebuilding of the city.
Unfortunately, Ms. Pearl's generosity quickly went awry as the chaos that so typified New Orleans at that time invaded "Kamp Katrina" and soon even the tent city was infiltrated by violence, chaos and dysfunction.
The filmmakers planted themselves in the midst of it all, and the resulting documentary is a disturbing and uncomfortable look at the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the lives of these residents. Whereas many documentaries paint their subjects through a kaleidoscope lens, "Kamp Katrina" serves up the harsh realities of trying to help others when there are no support systems offering assistance.
Kelley and Doug Baker, a married couple expecting a child, soon take center stage in the film as we follow Doug's substance abuse relapse followed, sadly, by Kelley's along with episodes of domestic abuse that will haunt you long after the closing credits.
"Kamp Katrina" isn't really the type of film it is possible to "like" in the traditional sense. It is far too honest and unnervingly lacking in sympathy. Even Ms. Pearl and her husband are, at times, almost disturbingly condescending and verbally abusive to their guests as the tent city becomes more and more unmanageable.
Shot with a devotion to naturalism, "Kamp Katrina" brings vividly to life the administration's failures in the days, weeks and months after Hurricane Katrina. As many videos and photographs as have been shown about the aftermath of Katrina, few are as graphic and disturbing as the devastation on display in this compelling yet uneven documentary.
Despite its stark authenticity and power, "Kamp Katrina" is a surprisingly detached film in which none of the participants is particularly sympathetic. While Kelley initially appears to be the film's emotional center, she loses favor by the time she begins smoking crack while pregnant and, once her formerly light presence is absent, "Kamp Katrina" mostly plays as a documentary about largely unsympathetic do-gooders helping even less sympathetic folks down on their luck and trying to survive horrifying circumstances.
Honest? Probably. Authentic? Yep, I'd say so.
It just doesn't make for very interesting cinema.
"Kamp Katrina" is certainly bold, honest filmmaking by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon. However, instead of relying on the natural sympathies that exist for Katrina's victims I just wish the filmmakers had bothered to include somebody with whom audiences could relate.
After Spike Lee's masterful Katrina documentary "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," "Kamp Katrina" feels like not much more than a Jerry Springer episode set in post-Katrina New Orleans.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic