Fifteen Years since Hurricane Katrina – Nonfiction

path of Hurricane Katrina
Source: Wikipedia

As Hurricane Sally made landfall, I remembered on August 30, fifteen years ago, when I realized I needed to actually put together an emergency kit for my family and me. What made me finally do this is seeing New Orleans underwater after Hurricane Katrina and the levees breaking.  What a devastating part of our history which just seems to be repeating itself today with COVID-19.

I remember being glued to the TV at the time and thinking how could something like this happen in the United States of America? The President of the United States was turning away help from other nations, but not doing enough to help the people that were stuck. He actually said in an interview on Sept 2, 2005, five days after the hurricane hit, to ABC News: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. There’s a lot of food on its way, a lot of water on the way and there’s a lot of boats and choppers headed that way. It just takes a while to float them.”

View of New Orleans in aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Source: Wikipedia

Recently I listened to the podcast Floodlines from The Atlantic. Writer Vann R. Newkirk goes into the deep history of hurricanes in New Orleans, interviewing people that were in New Orleans when the storm hit, people who were able to make it out, and various government officials.

A year after Hurricane Katrina hit, Spike Lee made a documentary, When the Levees Broke, for HBO. It is a four-part documentary that interviews the residents, including celebrities that were in New Orleans, state and local politicians, and rescuers including Sean Penn. The first part covers when the hurricane hit and the immediate days following. It concludes with the final part looking at it was like going back to your home.

cover image for Yellow House

Several nonfiction books have been written about people’s experiences during the hurricane. The most recent one, The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, won the 2019 National Book Award. The hurricane is not the main focus of the story, but it is part of the story of the house that she grew up in.

cover image for ZeitounWhen I first read Dave Eggers’ book Zeitoun, I thought it was fiction. Nobody should have to go through the trauma of Katrina, spend days helping fellow survivors, and then be arrested and detained for unknown reasons. This is exactly what happened to this Muslim American.

cover image for Five Days at MemorialHealth care rationing has been a part of our current pandemic, hence the need to flatten the curve. Back in 2005, Memorial Hospital in New Orleans also decided who lived and who died. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital tells the stories of the caregivers at the hospital where there is no power, the temperature is rising, and they are all exhausted. After reading this book, you might wonder if we have learned anything from our past.

cover image for Shots on the BridgeWay before Black Lives Matter became a movement, there was a killing of a disabled black man and a black male teenager by New Orleans Police, and they injured four other black people.  All of them were unarmed. It happened on the Danziger Bridge and Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-Up in the Wake of Katrina tells the story of what happened that day.

graphic for City of Seattle Prepare Yourself kit instructionsI hope that I will never need that emergency kit that I started putting together on August 30, 2005. But I know I have it and I know that history will continue to repeat itself until we learn from our past. You can also be ready for any upcoming disaster by visiting Prepare Yourself on the City of Seattle’s website where it tells you what you need for your emergency kit.


~posted by Pam H.

The Story of Film Part 14: New American Independents & The Digital Revolution

Throughout The Story of Film, we’ve seen how the advent of new technology has changed the face of cinema. Sound, color, and widescreen technology altered filmmaking significantly, and in the 1990s CGI (computer generated imagery) changed cinema again. Suddenly, it seemed anything a filmmaker wanted to show, could be. A vast Roman city, one costing thousands of dollars to build, could be created digitally at a fraction of the expense (Gladiator). A shape shifting, liquid metal villain could now seamlessly interact with living actors (Terminator 2). Dinosaurs, previously visualized using stop-motion, could amaze and endanger characters on screen for less time and effort (Jurassic Park). Yet the stories being told were old ones and their characters were stock archetypes, propped up by technology that delivered spectacle but no new content.

Continue reading “The Story of Film Part 14: New American Independents & The Digital Revolution”

Three on a Theme: Films About Elections

With the 2020 elections on the horizon and dominating the news cycle, it is a great time to engage with media that focus on various aspects of electoral politics. Here are three documentary films, available for free with your library card to stream on Kanopy, that tell specific lesser-known election stories from the United States and from outside of it. Whether you are looking to be inspired, entertained, or simply learn something new about political history, these documentaries will hopefully get you in the right mood to vote this November.

Nat Bates for Mayor
This documentary video project, focusing as per its subtitle on “corporate influence on local politics,” focuses on the
2014 mayoral race in Richmond, CA, which was an insane political invent featuring more than $3 million dollars of corporate investment from an oil company, intense fights over gentrification and racial politics, and angry white environmentalists. The movie also features some crazy political characters that make it both an entertaining experience and an informative look at a race which sat at the eye of a storm of intersecting political and social issues. A little over an hour long, it is not too time consuming and definitely leaves the audience with some great questions about morality and truth in the “game” of electoral politics. Continue reading “Three on a Theme: Films About Elections”

Three on a Theme: Disability Justice

2020 is an important year for disability rights in America, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 30 years old this July. This landmark piece of legislation was the result of the hard work of activists in the disability justice movement, which is still in progress today. Here are some SPL resources from disabled artists and activists that can provide a great introduction to the theory, expression, and ongoing work that represents the history and practice of disability justice movement.

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Care Work is an essay collection published in 2018 by prolific poet, essayist, activist, and educator Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. It is an intersectional look at the ways that people who experience multiple systems of oppression (disabled people who also identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans, or who are otherwise marginalized) work together to build community mutual aid networks through what Lakshmi calls care work, or the work of caring for one another as an act of resistance. These are beautiful essays that speak to Lakshmi’s individual experience as a disabled queer femme person of color, while examining the ways that other activists, artists, and other community members have worked together to build care networks as a means of enacting disability justice. Continue reading “Three on a Theme: Disability Justice”

Ray Harryhausen – Featuring Creatures

As a kid in the 1960s I loved the Sunday afternoon movies. Sometimes a Tarzan flick, sometimes a Kung Fu movie, sometimes a Hammer Horror, and sometimes it was a creature feature. Sure Godzilla or Mothra were fun, but the BEST creature features were done by a guy by the name of Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was inspired by the work of one Willis O’Brien, and specifically by O’Brien’s 1933 film King Kong that used stop-motion animation beside live action. On O’Brien’s advice, the teenaged Harryhausen dove into graphic design and sculpture classes and, along the way, made friends with an aspiring writer named Ray Bradbury. When World War II came about, Harryhausen enlisted and was stationed with the ‘Special Services,’ the entertainment branch of the Army, where he served under Colonel Frank Capra and worked with Ted Geisel. If those names sound familiar – the former was already a directorial giant in the movie industry before enlisting, and the latter became known to folks as Dr Suess. Continue reading “Ray Harryhausen – Featuring Creatures”