August 30, 2012

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By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Hurricane Katrina is on the minds of many after Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana last week, conjuring up memories of the 2005 storm. For the past six years, volunteers from Bucknell's Katrina Recovery Team have been part of the efforts to rebuild homes for families displaced by Katrina. "We're glad that Bucknell has been able to play a small part in the huge recovery effort," said Director of Civic Engagement Janice Butler.

Next week, Bucknell will host a free preview of a new documentary film by award-winning director Jonathan Demme that explores the devastation and rebuilding of New Orleans following Katrina.

"I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful," will be shown Monday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Gallery Theatre of the Elaine Langone Center.

"This film is a testament to the resilience of people with few resources who were determined to come back," Butler said.

The documentary will debut nationally on PBS television during the 25th anniversary season of the POV (Point of View) series on Sept. 20 at 10 p.m.

The film showing at Bucknell will be followed by a discussion with Daniel Wolff, author of the recently released book The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back.

Wolff will discuss how the filmmakers encountered Carolyn Parker and other residents of the Crescent City struggling to cope with the loss of property and a way of life.

Produced in association with American Documentary | POV, the film is 86 minutes long. The story covers the uncertainty of insurance claims, frustration with government red tape and delays, the betrayal of contractor fraud, and the importance of volunteer support that residents experienced in their efforts to reclaim their lives.

How people rebuild
Wolff and Demme, the director of such acclaimed movies as "The Manchurian Candidate," "Philadelphia," "Silence of the Lambs" and "Adaptation," set out to tell the story of how people rebuild following a tragic devastation like Katrina. After they met Carolyn Parker and gained permission to film her progress, what began as a historical documentary morphed into a deeply personal character study of courage and endurance.

Shot over the course of five years, "I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful," is Demme's chronicle of Parker's five-year crusade to rebuild her beloved neon-green house, her church, her community — and her life.

"Parker makes a memorable camera subject perfectly suited to Demme's scruffy, affectionate documaking. ...  A worthy addition to the growing body of work on Katrina and its still-ongoing aftermath," wrote Variety critic Justin Chang.

A voice for the displaced
As the levees broke and the floodwaters of Katrina barreled up the mouth of the Mississippi River, Parker's home in the Holy Cross neighborhood was submerged and her neighbors had to be rescued from their rooftops by helicopter. Parker was pronounced dead in the local newspaper after authorities found no trace of her for weeks. She was one of the last people to leave her neighborhood under mandatory evacuation, but she survived along with thousands of other newly homeless victims of the storm.

Eventually reunited with her children and her brother, Parker became a voice for the displaced people of the Lower Ninth Ward who were scattered all over the country waiting to come home. She gained instant recognition in January 2006 for her public rebuttal of Mayor Ray Nagin, when she railed at him and a committee of experts, promising that if they pulled down her house it would be "over my dead body."

As the waters retreated, Parker was one of the first to move back to the Lower Ninth. While she waited for the funds to reconstruct her house, she lived in a FEMA trailer for four years with her daughter,  who had returned home from Syracuse University to help. Her son joined the family from California, where he had just completed his master's degree, and lived in the gutted shell of Parker's home. Parker immediately began advocating for the rebuilding of St. David's Church, the only Catholic Church that welcomed blacks when she was growing up. Its resurrection became a primary mission for Parker.

Wolff's new book, The Fight for Home (Bloomsbury, 2012), is about citizens like Parker returning to New Orleans and rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward; it is another aspect of the ongoing project he is producing with Demme.

Wolff was executive producer on Demme's "The Agronomist," has published poetry in The Paris Review, Partisan Review and The Threepenny Review and is the author of a number of nonfiction books, including the recent How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them. Wolff's other work includes 4th of July/Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land, and Grammy-nominated liner notes for The Complete Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers cd.

Winner of the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award for his biography of Sam Cooke, Wolff has collaborated with sculptor Robert Taplin, musician Steve Elson and choreographer Marta Renzi, mother of his two children.

Wolff also will participate in a Writers at Work conversation Monday, Sept. 10, at 4 p.m. in the Smith Library of the Vaughan Literature Building.

Contact: Division of Communications