The Reeler

Recent Comments

FILM ON THE WEB

A Girl and a Gun
A_Film_By
Ain't It Cool News
Alliance of Women Film Journalists
Anne Thompson
Art Fag City
ArtFlickChick
Better Than Fudge
Big Picture Big Sound
Bitter Cinema
Blank Screen
Blogumentary
Brian Flemming
Bright Lights
Celluloid Eyes
CHUD
Chutry Experiment, The
Cinecultist
Cinema Confidential
Cinema Eye
Cinema-Scope
Cinemarati
Cinematical
CineMe
Coming Soon
Cool Cinema Trash
Cyndi Greening
Dark Horizons
Defamer
Drew's Blog-O-Rama
Errata
Esoteric Rabbit
Film Detail
Film Experience, The
Film Journal, The
Film Journey
Film Stew
Film Rotation
Flickhead
GreenCine Daily
Greg.org
Hacking Netflix
Hammer to Nail
High Sign, The
Hollywood Elsewhere
House Next Door, The
IFC Blog, The
In the Company of Glenn
IndieScene Movie Marketing Blog
indieWIRE.com
indieWIRE Blogs
Jay's Movie Blog
JoBlo's Movie Emporium
Kaiju Shakedown
Kamera
Kinoeye
Like Anna Karina's Sweater
Last Night with Riviera
Light Sleeper
Long Pauses
Looker
Masters of Cinema
Matt Zoller Seitz
Midnight Eye
Milk Plus
Mind Jack
Metaphilm
Movie Blog, The
Movie City Indie
Movie Hole, The
Movie Poop Shoot
New York Cool
NY Post Movie Blog
News of the Dead
No More Marriages!
Notes From Underdog
Out of Focus
Persistence of Vision
Pullquote
Queer Film Review
Reel Roundtable
ScreenGrab
Screen Rush
Screener (Film Journal Int.)
Screening the Past
Self-Styled Siren
Short Sheet, The
Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine Blog
Still in Motion
Stranger Song, The
They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?
Tisch Film Review
Twitch
Vince Keenan
World Film (at About.com)
You Know, For Film
Zoom-In

The Reeler Blog

Axe to Grind

By Lisa Rosman

Directors Ed Pincus and Lucia Small, whose new Hurricane Katrina aftermath doc The Axe in the Attic screens at this year's New York Film Festival, harken back to another era of documentary-making; when long shots were invariably accompanied by NPR-style acoustic guitar strumming and not much else, when topics were as worthy and staid as a Nation article and when the widest audience exposure they could reasonably expect was a PBS airing. They didn't know from penguins.


New Orleans activist Malik Rahim surveys the devastation in Ed Pincus and Lucia Small's documentary The Axe in the Attic (Photo: Pincus and Small Films)

But today we inhabit a fake community wrought by media globalism, in which we're constantly aware of disasters elsewhere, albeit in a numb, histrionic way that speaks to our profound dislocation. The questions have become: How do you sympathize without objectifying the (you should pardon the term) victims? How do you help people when not only their plights but they themselves are fundamentally foreign to you? And the question that very few are willing to admit even to themselves: How do you practice humanism when you don't consider everyone to be as human as you, or at least on your level?

The answer when it came to Axe was clearly anathema to these two who'd cut their teeth on fly-on-the-wall filmmaking: place themselves in front of the camera. And it works. Rather than reducing their meditation on the Katrina diaspora into a navel-gazer, the filmmakers' insertion of their white, Northern liberal selves into profoundly disenfranchised Southerners' testimony actually expands the film's relevance and renders it more honest.

Their approach contradicts the Michael Moore-style character-driven doc, however. Pincus and Small essentially render themselves as anti-heroes; between interviews with Katrina refugees, community organizers, preachers, FEMA officials and Army Corps of Engineering reps, the two willingly reveal the cracks in their liberalism. They freak out over the detritus around them, including some of the especially haggard refugees. "It's too overwhelming to see grown men cry regularly in the streets," Pincus complains. And in one excruciating scene, they decide not to give a bus pass to a subject who walks five hours each day to his low-paying job. Rough, even if you respect their journalistic integrity.

Rest assured that, at its core, this film is not about its directors. It's about the annihilation of arguably one of the last vital American communities -- one where people still knew how to hang over a coffee and have a grand ole time; one peopled with generations of survivors reaching back to slavery -- and the lack of a satisfactory U.S. response to that demise. When ex-Black Panther and community organizer Malik Rahim asks: "Where is the public outrage?" he's not referring to the lack of a governmental response. He's referring to the lack of a citizen response only six months after the levees broke. Pincus and Small offer themselves up as sacrificial lambs so audiences can more safely confront their own limitations when it comes to answering that question.

It's to the filmmakers' credit that they come off as more unlikable in the film than in person -- at least at this week's NYFF press conference. At one point, though, Pinkus said: "Everyone down there speaks of God and Jesus. And after a while, I got it. It embarrassed me, but I got it."

"What's 'it?' " I asked him, irritated by what sounded like condescension toward his subjects after all. "Why 'embarrassed'?"

He acknowledged a bias against Christianity borne of his own secular tradition and philosophical study. "Everyone down there kept pointing out how others had it worse than them," he said. "And I'd think, but what about the people who do have it worse then? What about God for them?"

"But the point is to love people in all their complexities -- not to have to clean them up." Including, I understood, his own. He and Small went on to emphasize that they intend to use the film as part of an outreach program in the older tradition of activist filmmaking.

"Someone told us to make sure the people are treated correctly," Small said. Say amen somebody. Just not Pincus, apparently.

Posted at September 28, 2007 8:21 AM

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.thereeler.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb-AjOOtIAl.cgi/1205

Search The Reeler
Join the Mailing List

RSS Feed

Archives

Send a Tip