In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, nearly 600 displaced evacuees found themselves en route to Utah, a region in striking contrast to New Orleans on virtually every level. Desert Bayou effectively summarizes the disaster that took place when the levees broke without reducing the matter to talking points, but its focus remains on the aftermath concerning this particular group of refugees, whose newfound presence in Mormon country proved a trying experience that demanded an extensive reexamination of their place in the world. Director Alex LaMay touchingly follows the stories of several families and individuals as they struggle to redefine themselves in a new environment while also searching for closure in regard to the heritage of their former lives, but it’s when Desert Bayou examines the turgid boundaries between race and class that it is most effective. Though publicly welcomed by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., the displaced New Orleans citizens were questionably relegated to the military base of Camp Williams, where they lived isolated from the general public, required to honor an 11 p.m. curfew lest they be locked out of their temporary living quarters for the night. Such treatment raises the issues of everything from passive, culturally instilled racism to the invisible social barriers that reinforce ignorance between the upper and lower classes, though these are quandaries the film largely bypasses in favor of more microcosmic examinations of the personal and (legitimately) tear-jerking kind. While it would have been satisfying to see more officials hung out to dry for their involvement in one of the biggest single failures of the modern U.S. government, Desert Bayou doesn’t front on its chosen angle and succeeds in furthering the much-needed dialogue on this defining event in our current political moment.
- Cinema Libre Studio
- 90 min
- Alex LeMay
- Thomas Lemmer
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