Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Orleans community activists gather for preview of new film on the struggle for housing

More than two hundred New Orleanians gathered together on Friday, August 28, to commemorate the struggles our communities have been through in the four years since the city was flooded. The occasion was a preview of selected scenes from the forthcoming documentary Land of Opportunity, by filmmaker Luisa Dantas.

Dantas has spent most of the past four years working on this film, which will be completed in 2010. The preview, which featured poetic narration from New Orleans spoken word artist Sunni Patterson, explored the confrontations around housing and homelessness this city has faced, from the battle over the fate of public housing to the homeless encampment outside city hall.

Among the most powerful moments were many scenes inside the now-torn-down developments, where first-hand observation disproves official claims that the housing was too damaged by the storm to be restored. Countering the claims by politicians and developers, we see residents cleaning their own apartments, accomplishing with simple cleaning supplies the task that HUD was unwilling to take on. In one memorable encounter, journalist Lolis Elie challenges a HANO spokesperson, while touring the Lafitte development. As the spokesperson claims the housing needs to be torn down, Elie points out the evidence right in front of their eyes, of mostly undamaged apartments. Urban planner Andres Duany, touring the St. Bernard development, reaches a similar conclusion.

The audience, which included a range of folks, from former public housing residents to lawyers and journalists and advocates and community residents, filled the empty lot next door to the Seventh Ward Neighborhood Center. Reaction to the film was overwhelmingly positive, although many were angered anew by the role of our public officials in tearing down these homes while the city faced a massive crisis in affordable housing. As we enter the fifth year after the storm, this crisis shows no sign of going away.

The event, which also featured music by the Big Seven Brass Band, was organized by a coalition of groups that included Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, Survivors Village, Porch 7th Ward Cultural Organization, NOLA Tenants Rights Union, JoLu Productions, STAND for Dignity, and PATOIS.

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