Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: "Land of Opportunity"

My Aunt Earline was one of the many New Orleanians to have their homes damaged by the floods during Katrina. I have lots of fond childhood memories of the bar in the downstairs room, the piano that was rarely used, the Charles Chips tins that littered the floor and the ecosystem that was the backyard pool.

The water ruined family pictures, home movies, furniture, etc. The home still stood - what was left, anyways.

"Land of Opportunity" starts from this point - the damage after the storm - and moves forward about 5 years. The politicians and pundits have had their say for long enough, but what about those on the ground, affected and dealing directly with the recovery? LOP is most concerned with them. This is no Michael Moore documentary, where the narrator is the central character - community activists, engineers, students, homeowners and undocumented workers are front and center here. And really, that's how it should be for this story.  

Land of Opportunity - Trailer from Land of Opportunity on Vimeo.

Of most interest to me was the fight for the right of displaced residents to return to their homes. Lead by concerned citizens like the great Sharon Jasper, I saw the beginnings of what would become the #Occupy movement. Told that the St. Bernard projects would be torn down to make way for a new neighborhood design, Sharon and other protesters broke down the barriers and literally took back their homes! The engineer tasked with changing the area up even agreed that the buildings could and ought to be reused. It really shows how ass backwards some officials are, when they pick difficult/costly over simpler/effective.

The buildings are eventually taken down. A sign reading "Housing is a human right" marks a fence while a wall is demolished in the background. After visiting a neighborhood in the Atlanta area that's being used as a template for the new construction, Sharon appears to like what she sees. But, she makes it clear that as long as displaced residents are held back from returning, she will keep fighting. I love her.

The movie tries to be a bit optimistic about the future; even Barack Obama (then Senator) shows up to discuss what he would do, and how enthusiastic he was about doing it. But, if anything is highlighted here, it's the snails pace of change. Why is it taking so long to recover when able bodied men and women are ready to help? The key word here is F R U S T R A T I N G.

My Aunt was able to return to her home, thanks to the generosity of the community. People came together, and donated their time and money to help her out. Sure, she lost the swamp like pool in the backyard, but at least there is a backyard to enjoy. The home is livable again, thanks to her neighbors.

There are people that love this city, and are willing to do what they can to restore and reform it. Why hold them back? Why not let them at it?

I linked to the films' website above. Currently, they are creating an interactive web player that will help viewers take the plunge and learn more. If you can, show your support by either donating or spreading the word!

4/5 *'s

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