A Katrina documentary you must see airs tonight on PBS
It was May 2008 at Columbia University in New York, and she had just screened some amazing footage of her Frontline film The Old Man and the Storm (airing at 10 tonight on WEDU-Ch. 3) -- an amazing tale tying the travails of one eightysomething black man struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to the byzantine and often harmful decisions made by policymakers and bureaucrats regarding aid.
Cross was worried: Would the public be interested in another Katrina tale? But the footage I saw back then revealed a story I'd never seen before, especially on television. While spending two years documenting the struggle of 82-year-old Herbert Gettridge to rebuild his devastated home in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, Cross' labors seemed to mirror her subject's -- whether or not the world paid attention, it seemed, they both had a job to do.
As Cross herself notes on the film's Web site, everybody from CNN and Billy Crystal to the hometown New Orleans Times-Picayune has profiled Gettridge, who became a "poster child" for the spirit of some folks to come back and rebuild homes devastated by flooding after the hurricane.
Cross expertly ties all the big-picture controversy over rebuilding after Katrina to problems in Gettridge's personal story. When he can't get power in his home, spending months working and living inside a house with no electricity, the film documents how his struggle was the result of the Bush administration's refusal to help the area power company with aid money -- the reasoning back then was that private industry shouldn't get public money, despite all the assistance New York businesses got after 9/11. How quaint that idea feels now, on the cusp of a $700-billion bailout for the nation's financial system.
With a family history stretching back five generations in New Orleans and a personal history that included breaking color lines in the city's craftsmen's guilds, Gettridge and his story makes for a compelling symbol. When viewers see his close-knit family struggling to return after the disaster scattered them across the country, as Gettridge's wife struggles to understand what has happened after a stroke, the magnitude of what happened -- and the true impact of public leaders' failure to help them -- emerges starkly.
Even if you think you're tired of Katrina stories, you'll want to see this one.