After a recent New York Film Festival screening, the directors of the sheepherding documentary Sweetgrass claimed that lived experience was more interesting to watch than people talking about their experiences. I couldn’t help but think about this while watching After the Storm, a pile of sanctimonious crap that tries to sweeten itself with the perfume of goodwill. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, a group of theater people from New York come to the Lower Ninth Ward to stage a high school-level production of Once on This Island—“the hurricane musical,” they helpfully tell people. The film follows the show from casting through rehearsals up to performances, with frequent talking-head interruptions to praise the important work that everyone is doing. Far from covering the process comprehensively, the film strangely leaves several basic gaps in the story: We don’t know whether any of the kids have done theater before, who’s meant to see the show, how the producers and directors came to town, or how they relate to the community at large. Furthermore, the rehearsal footage is so scattershot that even after the film ended I had no idea what Once on This Island is about. The kids themselves drop in and out of the movie, their personal conflicts briefly raised and left unresolved, which is a shame, because the few bits of their home lives post-Katrina that we discover are intriguing; the most vivid involves a home where the family members have to fill a bucket in the kitchen and carry it to the bathroom if they wish to take a hot bath. The filmmakers seem to possess the wrong focus—the real interest here doesn’t lie in the show, but in its actors, whose stories the film either coats with thick piano music or else ignores altogether. In its place we get the New Yorkers gushing over how amazing the kids are to work with. The show’s producer, James Lecescne, says, “The musical is about the value of getting to tell one’s story, and that’s what we’re here to do.” His words ring ironic—after all, he’s not letting these young people tell their own stories, but imposing a story onto them. After the Storm does the same thing.
- 89 min
- Hilla Medalia
- Hilla Medalia
- Rayán Arnold, Annie Britton, Eric T. Calhoun Jr., Griffin Collins III, Deshawn Dabney, Joel Collonia Dyson, Hannah Guillory, Grant Hunter, Taylor Mars, Ashley Rose Richard, Jasmin Simmons, Jon Stevenson, April Stewart
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