The film The Axe in the Attic (2007), directed by Ed Pincus and Lucia Small, explores the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans and its residents, particularly those who have lost their homes and have therefore been displaced. This film is unique however, as it tries to portray the varied effects of this horrific storm in ways that many would not think of.
The film begins with eerie, foggy scenes of ruined, deserted houses, leaving the viewer unsure of where they are. These scenes are followed by news clips of the disaster with a voiceover from Lucia Small explaining that she, like most Americans, watched this atrocity unfold from the comfort of her living room. As a filmmaker she felt the need to document it all, so she got in touch with her colleague Ed Pincus and the two began a journey from the Northeast, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana, and finally Texas. Along the way they meet and film many different families, both African American and white, who have different stories but who all share one common issue: their homes have been so badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina that they have been forced to move away. The subjects talk of the damage to their homes, the unresponsiveness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the resulting frustration, and, perhaps most sadly, the deaths of neighbors and loved ones.
One of the film’s biggest claims is that racism played a major role in Hurricane Katrina. This claim has two parts. The first part is that the breach of the levees surrounding New Orleans, LA disproportionally affected the African American residents of the areas protected by the levees. The second part is the fact that anyone who did not have enough money to leave the city by their own car (i.e. many African Americans) were essentially prevented from leaving, as the government created seemingly unnecessary blockades all around the city and no public transportation was available. Small and Pincus seem to want their viewers to see that Hurricane Katrina exposed multiple inequalities that exist in the United States but that its citizens like to believe have been abolished.
The Axe in the Attic is a unique film due to one of the techniques that its directors utilize. At the beginning of the film Small states that from the beginning of filming, she and Pincus knew that this was not going to be the type of film where they could simply remain behind the camera. There are many scenes where one of them is holding the camera while the other is interviewing someone, speaking directly to the camera, or even breaking down in tears. Included in the film is footage that other directors may have chosen to leave on the editing room floor (such as a scene in the car where Small and Pincus have just arrived in New Orleans, are lost at night, and are therefore arguing with each other), however Small and Pincus include them because they contribute to the general sense of tension and physical and emotional exhaustion surrounding the entire disaster. They even discuss the decisions they made about who to film and what the experience was like for them. Small says that she became absorbed by the story, while Pincus remained an observer. There is therefore a scene in which Small is clearly distraught and wants to give one of the subjects money, while Pincus reminds her of the fact that documentary ethics discourage giving money to anyone, because then one will feel the need to give to everyone (although he ultimately gives some money to someone, enraging Small).
The Axe in the Attic fills a niche in the discussion surrounding Hurricane Katrina, as it grabs its viewers and brings them into the story. This is done through the use of a handheld camera, footage of the directors, and the general sense that Small and Pincus seek to make this situation feel as real, raw, troubling, and dysfunctional for their viewers as possible.
Summer Miller-Walfish 2011