Film at FitzGerald's evokes New Orleans

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Stan West

Maybe it's because I was in New Orleans during Katrina weekend rescuing our twins' godmother from her Lower Ninth Ward apartment. Maybe it's because I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans.

Or maybe it's because I've taken dozens of suburban and urban teens on service-learning visits to the Crescent City that makes me think events in the Gulf region are important.

But on Thursday, March 15, after a steamy day here that might have reminded other locals of Louisiana weather, I joined a packed, beer-soaked crowd at FitzGerald's to witness two significant events — the screening of the 78-minute documentary, Veins in the Gulf, which featured guitarist-singer Tab Benoit singing his Cajun blues, and crying on camera as he discussed the post-Katrina, post-BP oil spill catastrophes and how people in the Bayou are grappling with these issues.

As audiences learned that there's more than 10,000 miles of canals and that the Louisiana wetlands are the "kidneys" that filter the region's water, it struck me that Houma tribal lands are left out of federal levee protection plans. The film raised the question but didn't answer it. Perhaps that was its purpose, hinting that one of the reasons for locals to care about environmental erosion going on in the Gulf region is because much of the nation's oil, seafood and culture come from this vital area. Oil, for example, has never returned to pre-Katrina levels. Ditto for seafood.

I probed the film's producers to hear how other Oak Parkers responded. In an interview with the film's co-producer, Elizabeth Coffman, here's what I learned:

"Oak Parkers expressed their thanks," said Coffman, a professor at Loyola University. "The only criticism I heard from anyone was about wishing the 'problem' was more clearly defined in the first 20 minutes of the film. I and my co-producer, Ted Hardin, struggled for years with 'defining the problem' in southern Louisiana and making it meaningful to a national audience. Environmental problems are often defined by their interdisciplinary and historical nature. You need to understand that building the levees in 1927 is related to why the ground in the delta region is sinking and part of why the area is more vulnerable to sea level rise than any other coastal region in the country right now. The area needs dirt."

Hardin, a Columbia College professor, offered a more cultural comment.

"One Oak Parker there with his son was impressed with the great maps, music and the beautiful images of the bayou, swamps and the Gulf. He then asked incredulously, "Why are the wetlands disappearing? Why isn't the country talking about why we're losing so much land in Louisiana?"

Meanwhile, two other Oak Parkers who come to every Tab Benoit show at FitzGerald's, thought it was great that Tab and the Cajun zydeco mix he learned in the wetlands with Creole blues music he learned in New Orleans' French Quarter ended up in the film.

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