Ashley Sabin and David Redmon's bittersweet film documents the efforts of two New Orleans natives — eccentric "Miss Pearl" and her husband, David Cross — to help their beloved city heal from Hurricane Katrina's devastation: They turn their small backyard into a temporary tent city for displaced locals, a motley group of underemployed and troubled fringe dwellers who, says Miss Pearl saucily, "don't do it mainstream." That proves an understatement.
The Crosses live in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in the Upper 9th Ward, which suffered comparatively mild storm damage. But for many residents, the hurricane knocked out the foundation of those perpetually living only one paycheck or one personal crisis away from collapse. The Crosses feel obliged to repay the kindness of strangers who helped when they were forced to temporarily abandon their home. But both know plenty about addiction and living on the brink, so their hospitality comes with rules: No hard drugs, no excessive drinking, no coming into the house (the yard has cooking facilities and an outdoor shower), no fraternizing with the neighbors, many of whom deal drugs, and no lying around — everyone who stays in what Miss Pearl dubs "Kamp Katrina" must be employed or seriously looking for work. Men with too much time on their hands "pack up like dogs," she says. "And then they become wolves." The refugees include pregnant Kelly and her husband, Doug, who met at Narcotics Anonymous; Tammy, permanently disfigured by a brutal rapist, and her boyfriend Mike; and Charles, who believes he's possessed by Joan of Arc and has apocalyptic visions. During the first few weeks, everyone is on his or her best behavior, but as the weeks wear into months, tensions emerge and tempers flare. Miss Pearl moves Kelly, who conceals a surprisingly sharp wit under a sleepy, street-smart diffidence, into the house in deference to her pregnancy, and Doug starts drinking. One couple is evicted for stealing, another for violence. But even as inertia and despondency eat away at the fragile spirit of optimism that spawned Kamp Katrina, Miss Pearl and David try to hold the group together.
Redmon and Sabin chronicle the ups and downs of the makeshift community with a dispassionate eye, capturing both their self-destructiveness and the circumstances that drove people with bigger emotional and financial resources to despair. But the film ends on a note of cautious hope: With Kamp Katrina's original members gone, David and Miss Pearl are willing to take in a new group and try to help them get back on their feet. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh