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By Phil Hall | May 11, 2010

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, filmmakers Elizabeth Wood and Gabriel Nussbaum came to New Orleans’ Singleton Charter Middle School with a unique mission.  The duo gave video cameras to a number of the students and asked them to record what their lives have been like in the aftermath of the destruction.

The resulting footage provides uncommon first-person accounts of growing up in a disaster zone: ruined homes, cramped FEMA trailers, frank confessions of fear and loss, and a glimpse down streets destroyed by nature and abandoned to criminal elements. There is also an intriguing glimpse at the Singleton operations: overcrowded into a YMCA facility, the school’s exhausted teachers struggle to press ahead with an ambitious educational program.

Considering the nature of the project, much of the students’ video diary is pockmarked with distracting amateurism: included (for no good reason) is too much shaky camerawork, interviews with adults who start laughing and require retakes, and the intrusion of clownish classmates with and urge to ham it up for the cameras. The filmmakers also include English subtitles in many portions of the film – an illogical decision, since the soundtrack is not incomprehensible.

But on the whole, images and observations are raw and often profound, and the resilience of the youngster to push ahead while living in conditions of extraordinary squalor and decay is difficult to forget. It is also the rare media work that actually allows the youth of New Orleans to speak for themselves – no mean feat, considering the condescending and frequently racist media coverage surrounding New Orleans during and after Katrina.  One can hope that the young people who put this documentary together will be able to go into lucrative careers in non-fiction filmmaking – the seeds of talent are evident.

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