Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Reviewing The Big Uneasy, Revisiting Maria Garzino

I saw The Big Uneasy last weekend, Harry Shearer's film in which Maria Garzino tells her story again. Which is still unfinished. Note: I posted about The Big Easy a couple weeks ago, and who joined the debate but Harry Shearer himself!

Variety checked it out. The Economist checked it out, too and both had similar complaints that this was no Spike Lee joint. As Gary Moskowitz wrote:

Where films such as "Trouble the Water" and Spike Lee's two four-hour documentaries on the subject—the award-winning "When the Levees Broke" and "If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise"—are heavily emotional endeavours that tackle issues of race and class among New Orleans residents, Shearer's film spends more time considering the science and politics behind the mess.

I sort of think comparisons like these are patently unfair. Presenting race and class issues is inherently more emotional. I don't think that's what Shearer was after. If you always think of New Orleans as an emotional, artistic place, you're never going to pay attention to how specifically their engineering - which is our engineering, which is national - and their politics - which is our politics, which compromises our engineering - failed and killed people.

We often, in the media, in blogs, in conversation, use Katrina as shorthand for something. A natural disaster. A harbinger of a changing climate. A failure of the Bush Administration. A systemic neglect of poor, Black and old people. An opportunity for corruption at the local, state, and federal levels. And yes, all of these things happened.

But we don't as often use Katrina as an example of how the system by which we engineer and build infrastructure in this country is broken, and how we don't do a good job watching the engineers. That's what Shearer was doing, in part, here. Just as Maria Garzino did.

As for Variety, their "analysis" picked up on the "Ask a New Orleanian" sections of the film, mocking the obvious absurdity of the following questions:

"Why are New Orleanians sitting on their butts waiting for the government to rebuild their city?" "Isn't New Orleans just a depopulated, Disneyfied version of its former self?" "Why does our tax money have to go toward solving their problems?" "Aren't parts of the city still under water?"

Variety might find these questions absurd: it suggested that nobody would ask them, and so these were pointless sections of the film. But I've been asked every single one of them, more than once, in the last five years, in my capacity as a new New Orleanian, a New Orleanian, and now an ex New Orleanian.

As for me, and my review: I really liked it. It talked about a New Orleans I knew. David Torkanowsky is an awesome musician, and so the music was great. And it explained things New Orleanians who I know wish people outside their city knew. I'm a fan of projects like that.

Something else: the film gave higher profile to something called the Dutch Dialogues. Since it's a biggified way of thinking about low impact development, I hope to have more about that soon.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy reading Pacific Swell? You might like KPCC’s other blogs.

What's popular now on KPCC