Forgotten But Not Gone [Complete Documentary]

 

If I have only one sentence to share with you about this project, I must reiterate that these are real stories, from real people, a whole two years after one of the worst natural disasters to ever affect the United States.

If you afford me a few more sentences, I would love to elaborate.

This is a project that has now been three years in the making. From my first trip to the Gulf Coast in the spring of 2006, I have been at once both devastated by the situation, and filled with hope for the rebuilding of a city that I had no previous understanding of, or interaction with. It’s weird how something like this can capture the deepest parts of one’s heart–sometimes deeper than many of us, myself for certain, may ever know.

At the onset of this project, I had completely underestimated how difficult this project would be to complete. For the first six months of the post-production process, I went through edit after edit of a story that didn’t faithfully tell the whole situation as I had come to understand and experience. It took a great deal of time for me to realize that I was attempting the unattainable. Indeed, as Chris Farmagetti so carefully points out, there is a tendency to attempt a narrative portrayal of the rebuilding of the region. The problem, however, was that there didn’t exist any narrative. Nothing was happening. Things weren’t improving. In fact, it was not until the very beginning of 2008 that any very encouraging recovery statistics began to emerge.

In the spring of 2007, I made my most recent voyage to the region, prepared to document what would, after post-production, be the two-year mark since the storm. Armed only with a round-trip ticket between Boston and New Orleans, and an only half-reliable plan of where I would be staying, I set out. (I would later discover that the half-reliable plan was not, in fact, reliable at all… Water under the bridge, really.)

The story that I found on this last trip was astounding. From my prior experiences in New Orleans, I had come to develop some expectation of where the rebuilding process should, by my estimation, be after two years. What I discovered, however, were neighborhoods that had still been untouched. More than a year after the storm, there were still school children on waiting lists to attend school. There were still unprecedented levels of homelessness. There were still problems. While in New Orleans, I have lived in circus tents, empty warehouses, abandoned houses, and places in between. I have eaten well, and gone to bed hungry. I have entered into the story of some of the city’s residents, and even so, I might need to be the first person to admit that I don’t know a thing about what it is like to live out such a reality, day after day.

There are certain single events that change you. Sometimes this change is momentary. Sometimes it is permanent. In my case, the experience resulted in my moving 3,000 miles across North America to pursue a different career path.

I don’t know what this documentary will do in you. I hope, at some level, it makes you uncomfortable. I hope, at some level, you feel the documentary to be unresolved. (It is. It’s not just you.) The story doesn’t offer a clean ending for the simple reason that life rarely offers a clean ending. In New Orleans, Louisiana, this is most certainly the case.

I must thank everyone who made this project a reality. Richard Feindel and Kady Buchanan for offering their faithful and unending encouragement. Kate, Lindsey and Alex for their continued friendship, and all of the lovely folks I have had the privilege of meeting and living with in the process. I must thank Drew Rosema, without whose help I might still be languishing in the terminal of New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport. I thank my mother and father for their tireless work to provide me with absolutely extraordinary opportunity and privilege.

This is not my story–it belongs to you. Please enter into it, and share with me this reality.

Most sincerely,

NATHANAEL BERENDS
Seattle Washington, Spring, 2008

More information can be found here: http://stillnotgone.com/