In January 2006, four months after the Hurricane Katrina and Rita floods devastated New Orleans, director Jonathan Demme and producer Daniel Wolff arrived in the city planning to make a one year/five season documentary. The documentary would try to chronicle the changing visual and human ecology of some of the hardest hit neighborhoods over the course of that first post-flood year.
But by January 2007, it was clear that real recovery was painfully slow, and the stories of the amazing people they’d met – their courage and strength as well as the governmental neglect that slowed their progress – were far from over. The filmmakers, joined by editor Abdul Franklin, committed to continuing to film until all the subjects of the documentary had successfully returned to their rebuilt homes.
With visits every three to four months for the past thirty months, hundreds of hours of footage have been accumulated, and shooting continues on a regular basis, capturing the on-going struggle of these remarkable New Orleanians trying to reclaim their lives.
R2R/Right to Return – the over-arching brand of this many faceted project – presently includes between twenty and thirty hours of edited episodes in what we envision as a humanistic reality TV show. Tailored for cable TV, the series will follow the saga of a unique group of American heroes: 21st century pioneers in a city that is, against all odds, re-making itself and its culture.
We’ve also begun work on several feature-length documentary portrait films. On this website, you’ll find selections from all four: “THE CAROLYN PARKER STORY,” “THE HARRISONS OF NEW ORLEANS,” “PASTOR MEL,” and “THE BLUE HOUSE: PORTRAIT OF A NEIGHBORHOOD.”
After a screening of the work-in-progress at New York’s Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival in November 2006, the first public appearance of the R2R project was the May 2007 premier of five twenty-minute portrait films that were shown over the course of five consecutive nights on Tavis Smiley’s nationally syndicated PBS show.
These five short films were then combined with additional material to create a feature length film called “New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward,” which has been shown at various film festivals, including the AFI “Silverdocs” Documentary Film Festival in Maryland, the 2007 Rome International Film Festival, and most recently at the New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival. There, “New Home Movies” was honored to be the opening night event held at the recently re-opened John McDonagh High School, followed by a reception at the legendary Mother-in-Law Lounge -- whose progress towards recovery and rebuilding had been chronicled by R2R cameras since the first visit in January 2006.
Scenes from “New Home Movies” can be viewed on this website, and that film is presently being re-edited and expanded. Negotiations are presently under way for “New Home Movies” appearance on a cable TV network, as a pilot for as many as five of the R2R “spin-off” reality series. Separate talks are now underway with an international distributor of DVD’s, where “New Home Movies” is envisioned as the first in an emerging library of R2R documentary projects.
We will continue to add new projects as they’re completed, and eventually hope to have an on-line library documenting the still-breaking story of New Orleans and the right to return.
[Short films drawn from the R2R archives have appeared on the web as part of the nation-wide effort to rebuild New Orleans. See LINKS.]