Outraged by events unfolding in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Lucia Small cajoled fellow documentarian Ed Pincus out of retirement to road-trip from New England to the Big Easy, capturing stories from those displaced by the natural disaster along the way. The Axe in the Attic charts the filmmakers’ journey in rough-hewn verité style, their main aesthetic tack being to point their camera in the direction of scenes of terrible wreckage and the faces of confused, distraught, and furious people, and hope that something magical happens. It’s an approach that reaps some visual dividends, conveying the enormity of what’s happened via haunting tracking shots of the decimated landscapes, which—marked by houses perched on trees, and streets covered in household debris—speak far more poignantly about loss and negligence than any of the directors’ human portraits. This is mainly because, while the grief and anger in survivors’ voices resonate loudly, the film’s on-the-spot interviews with them are so aggravatingly cursory that they barely make any sort of lasting impression. Cursory is a term that also applies to the attempts to probe the limits of documentary neutrality, an issue that becomes pivotal once Small and Pincus arrive in Louisiana and, confronted face to face with monumental chaos and heartbreaking misfortune, find themselves strongly tempted to lend cash and assistance to those they’re trying to film. The duo’s desire to help provides an opportunity to investigate a potentially intriguing issue concerning the (necessary? hypocritical?) boundaries maintained between nonfiction filmmakers and their subjects, yet it’s a topic that’s more-or-less thoroughly squandered, as the directors ultimately use their confliction as merely an excuse to turn the cameras on themselves. In a manner exactly contrary to Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, The Axe in the Attic becomes as much the story of its makers as one about the economic and personal cost of Katrina, a wrongheaded transference of focus that finally manages to overshadow—as well as minimize—its various Katrina victims’ stingingly visceral reactions to the calamity.
- 110 min
- Ed Pincus, Lucia Small
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: