Timing was everything for the latest large-format film now being shown at the Entergy IMAX Theater, Hurricane on the Bayou, which examines New Orleans’ vulnerability to hurricanes from wetlands loss in coastal Louisiana.
“It was being filmed with the question of what would happen if the worst storm in 100 years hit New Orleans, then the worst storm in 100 years hit New Orleans,” says Karyn Noles Bewley, managing director of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, part of the Audubon Nature Institute which runs the IMAX facility.
The $6 million film was made by the Academy Award-winning documentary team MacGillivray Freeman Films. Production had wrapped in May 2005 and included a simulation of a hurricane. But when Katrina struck, the filmmakers quickly changed the entire scope of the project. Within four days of Katrina, its crews were back in New Orleans filming the devastated city on foot, from helicopters and from boats in the flooded streets. Thoroughly rewritten and filmed all over again in post-Katrina Louisiana, the documentary now follows three local musicians – R&B legend Allen Toussaint, teenage Cajun-style fiddler Amanda Shaw and blues guitarist Tab Benoit – and their experiences after the storm.
While Katrina plays a major role in the film, it still focuses on Louisiana’s endangered wetlands, the wildlife there and the ecosystem’s role in buffering New Orleans and other coastal communities from dangerous storms.
“The ability to deliver this message on a five-and-a-half-story screen is just incredible,” says Noles Bewley, referring to the large-format IMAX screen. “As a public facility focused on education and the environment, [the Audubon Institute] has an incredible opportunity to tell the story of the wetlands to millions of people with this film.”
While the film debuted in New Orleans on Aug. 29 – the anniversary of Katrina – it is set to be distributed much more widely in the months ahead. In August, there were 30 release agreements with theaters to show the film and the Audubon Institute expects that number to rise to 100. The film will be shown at a conference of large-format theater operators from around the world being held later in September in Galveston, which Noles Bewley says will be another opportunity to promote it for further distribution.
“It’s so important to remind the world how Katrina impacted the lives of people here, to show that it’s not just about politics, it’s about people,” she says. “It’s a moving and powerful film, with footage of our city and of our natural environment, but in the end it is a very hopeful story we’re telling.” — Ian McNulty