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Fathers and Daughters:
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Desert Bayou"

As in a war, a major disaster generates individual stories that form a flow that could go on for years. This documentary focuses on a little-known Hurricane Katrina rescue operation that took place without fanfare even as people were in dangerous physical, psychological and spiritual stress while awaiting some kind of tangible governmental reaction.

It's almost laughable but most certainly ironic that one of the dryest states in the union, and not one known for its racial diversification, decided to take in up to 600 New Orleans evacuees after the storm. So it happened that African Americans struggling to collect promised aid and dealing with the upheaval in their lives, willing to step on an airplane for parts unknown.

The immediate reactions to the pilot's announcement that they were deplaning in Salt Lake City brings a variety of reactions, from anger to wonder, feeling corraled, insulted, unconsulted and stressed. To make matters worse, they were subjected to luggage checks, background checks, and herded aboard buses to an outlying military base often used for the sequestering of visiting National Guard units.

Again, reactions varied, from thanks for the new opportunity to gripes about its suddenness and alienness. This was, truly, a 180 degree change from what they'd known all their lives. Instead of the French Quarter and the warmth of a familiar, forgiving culture, they were staring at snow-covered mountains in the heart of conservative America. No one could be condemned for a certain level of distrust.

This was something decided by state leaders and no one was more supportive of the positive nature of the social experiment than Mayor Rocky Anderson. People in the street expressed reactions as varied as those now encamped. Hackles get raised when the sergeant in charge of the base operations instituted a curfew. A debate over it raged. A Jewish rabbi loses his talk show when he sponsors a public meeting to greet the evacuees. It is a very mixed bag.

To tell a meaningful urban social story, director Alex LeMay concentrates his film on two men and their families in particular, tracing their attitudes, their changes and their ultimate decisions about returning home or making Utah their home. They are his "voiceless victims out of the aftermath" given voice. Curtis Pleasant, a gregarious, boisterous husband and father of three daughters has no profession, but no similar addiction, either. What the dislocation to Utah means to him and his family is his own to take advantage of, and he does.

Other mouthpieces for the pros and cons and results of a state's largesse (including Master P for some marquee value) enter the stream of interviews along with some archival footage and updates on New Orleans highlights since the storm (insistence on staging a Mardi Gras parade; legal action against the U.S. Army of Engineers, etc.), down to the city of today. Before the pic's end a certain teiousness of subject appears. but not before it raises questions of exploitating and possibly negatively impacting a population of underprivileged. But the case can be made for positive impacting, as well.

In the end, there's no lingering doubt that this a documentary of interest and worth because of the unique study it affords of a humanistic and singular event far outside the guidance of any political playbook. Americans, and people everywhere, rarely enter into audacious commitments with such unforeseeable consequences. For me, it casts Utah in a new and, surprisingly, positive light.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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