In Jonathan Demme's new film, there's hope after Katrina

Wed Sep 19, 2012 7:52pm EDT
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By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - During the months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, pastor Joseph Campion in the city's Lower Ninth Ward helped hundreds of people wipe away tears. Parishioner Carolyn Parker wasn't one of them.

Parker, who was one of thousands who lost nearly everything in the disastrous post-Katrina flood, is the subject of a new documentary by Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme in a compelling portrait of how people recover from catastrophic events. It first airs Thursday on PBS.

"I never did that, I didn't cry, and Father Joe thought that was weird," Parker says during a reflective moment in the documentary "I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful."

Parker's indomitable spirit intrigued Demme from the moment he first spotted her, as he and co-producer Daniel Wolff drove along Jourdan Avenue in June 2006 and paused in front of her scarred and gutted double-shotgun house, their camera pointed toward her.

"Would you like to come in?" a smiling Parker asks, stepping toward them without hesitation in one of the film's first scenes.

Demme and Wolff not only went in to meet her, but returned repeatedly over the next five years to document her progress in recovering her life and restoring her badly flooded home.

Parker - her husband deceased and her children grown - had plenty of reason to fold her cards and leave the city after the post-Katrina flood submerged 80 percent of New Orleans and killed 1,500 people. Yet she was one of the first to return to her neighborhood and begin working on her house.

"That's a helluva woman right there," a neighbor says in the film, gesturing toward Parker's house in the tattered black neighborhood, which had many problems even before the flood.   Continued...

Carolyn Parker is shown in this undated handout photo supplied by PBS September 19, 2012. REUTERS/I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful"/PBS/Handout