Another in a slew of Huricane Katrina-themed docs, what sets Demme’s film apart is both the scope (he filmed over many years) and the direct focus of the subject matter. Choosing one remarkable woman and using her story to the larger tale of the postdeluvian 9th ward is both inspired and extremely effective.
Carolyn Parker herself is a force of nature – sassy, confrontational, with a strong level of commitment that’s infectious. Her fight to reopen her church (temporary consolidation resulted in a discussion about which of two in the area to save) is mirrored by her own, more personal struggle to see her matchbox home resuscitated. We initially find her daughter, a scholarship student in a Northern college, called home just as she began her education to help with the cleanup.
Parker is a matriarch both to her immediate family and the community as a whole – we see her strong will push for revitalization on a national political stage when she confronts the Mayor and other politicians directly about the plight of her neighbourhood. Quick witted, with a sharp tongue and effective rhetoric, Carolyn’s passionate pleas shine throughout the work.
In chronicling the ongoing struggles and missteps that befall her effors, Demme remains a central figure in the doc. His affection for the family is clear, but he still manages to paint a pretty thorough picture of his principal subject. Though she comes warts and all, Carolyn Parker’s smile and determination drives much of the appreciation of the work.
Shot on consumer handicam, this isn’t exactly a beautiful film. Still, the photography is competent and the small rigs make for a far less obtrusive footprint, enabling Demme and crew to capture moments of great intimacy and intensity.
The film stumbles towards the end, running out of material as the day-to-day struggles take over the heightened anxiety that followed shortly after the flood. Pacing issues aside, the film remains a unique and penetrating look at a compelling subject, providing insight into her beliefs and community in ways very few docs manage to accomplish.