Orgullosos De Estar Aqui (2006) – Hurricane Katrina – 10 years Later
I have not touched my blog in 5 years and after coming in here and looking around I am quite happy with the past content. This post is dedicated to some previous work that changed my life at the time which I had done in 2006 for the now defunct Current TV. This channel was championed by Al Gore. It was a radical concept that allowed regular folks to submit original documentary content and regular viewer would vote online for submissions to go the air. The network paid the independent producers a small fee but more importantly it gave viewers a place for their content to live and get exposure. The network is gone so my movie hasn’t been available for viewing for since 2011 so I dug deep in my hard drive and managed to find the original non-network edit which I posted on You Tube. This is some of the best work I’ve ever done in my life and I want it to always exist online so that other’s may view it. Before you watch it, read the rest of this post to get the background on it.
So, I was in love with Current TV when it launched. I used to watch it for hours and was impressed at the work that people submitted. I wanted to work here. I tried various avenues to get a job here but nothing seemed to work until one day Current TV hosted a contest called. Seeds of Tolerance. This contest had a $100k prize attached to it and at the time I really needed the money, I still do.. They promoted the contest for a few months but I couldn’t come up with a topic I was feeling passionate about.
One day I called my good friend Daphne who is immigration lawyer in Miami to say hello. I told her about this Current TV contest and she stopped me in my tracks and told me about this horrible on going thing happening to illegal immigrant workers in New Orleans which she thought was a good topic to explore. It turned out that illegal immigrants were being hired to complete huge $30k post Katrina rebuild projects and then calling immigration on them instead of paying them, they were being deported back to their countries with absolutely NOTHING. This made me furious because as an immigrant to the United States I knew how big the sacrifice was for these people to risk their lives to assist in rebuilding New Orleans so they could help their families back home. I strongly felt it was something that needed to be discussed. In my mind this topic was about Tolerance because that is at the root of the immigration topic in America.
With almost no resources, 30 days left until the contest deadline, borrowed equipment from my friend Gregory Kellett and some financial little help from a good buddy who had recently won half a million bucks on the TV show, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader, I embarked on a solo journey to ground zero NOLA exactly a year after the hurricane destroyed the city. I didn’t know anyone and had just called around and gotten some suggestions of people to meet and interview on the topic. This guy Christian Roselund who ran Indymedia was my only contact. This was all guerrilla style documentary work. I spent 11 days filming and the remaining 19 days editing and writing.
The time I spent on the ground out there was one of the best times of my life. It was a somewhat apocalyptic atmosphere, people were still in emergency mode a year later. I met some amazing human beings who were the real life heroes in my book. Most of the people in this movie I met by approaching them on the street and just going in and asking questions. There is one scene in the movie where I am distributing work gloves and masks. I bought these for an entire crew of immigrant workers myself because I was witnessing them handling black mold without any protection. I was brought to tears many times during the process because I understand the plight of the immigrant worker in the United States and it broke my heart to see this injustice unfold. At the end of the day white American did not come to the rescue in New Orleans, the illegal central and south American people did. Things are of course very complex because this movie un earthed the very ugly side of New Orleans’ racist culture. The local displaced black community members could not get work because it was easier for contractors to hire illegal immigrant workers who would do it for less money but risk their health and their lives to do so. The entire issue became very complicated. Before Katrina there were almost no latin people living here and now there are entire communities around NOLA. It was not a pretty entry, I would say they earned their right to be there thru their blood, sweat and tears. I pray that their lives are better than they were when I was there in 2006 filming this movie.
Now for the fun part… The original non Current TV edit of Orgullosos de Estar Aqui..Orgullosos De Estar Aqui.
Credits and thank you’s:
Eddie & Johnny & Larry for letting me crash in your places, and Kieran Walsh for hooking that up.
Alex Outhred for funding
Gregory Kellet and Ian Kellet for the Camera and the tips – good juju!
Elsa Wenzel for support and research help
“CESAR” for putting up with me in his editing suite.
Christian Roselund, Ed Holub, Eva San Martin, Luz Molina, Jorge Lopez, Damion, Claire Didier, Lamar LeBlanc, Albert at Common Ground, and the immigrants themselves who put themselves at risk to help me make this film.