There are countless stories to tell about those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Jonathan Demme’s moving and intimate documentary zeroes in on one particularly soulful example: Carolyn Parker, a Lower Ninth Ward resident whose home was gutted by the storm but remained standing, much like its vivacious owner. The film chronicles various visits with Parker between 2006 and 2010, as she attempts to rebuild the decaying structure and her own devastated spirits.
Though not in the magisterial league of Spike Lee’s New Orleans diptych (When the Levees Broke and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise), I’m Carolyn Parker is a cut above most nonfiction explorations of Katrina, thanks to the ever-empathetic Demme’s talent for showcasing the uniquely human qualities of every person he films. The movie is brimming with memorable presences, from the late Mother-in-Law Lounge owner Antoinette K-Doe (who first directs Demme to his subject’s doorstep) to Parker’s devoted daughter Kyrah, who gave up a college scholarship to assist her mother post-hurricane. But Parker herself is the forceful center, with her sharp tongue, wizened gaze and a beaming, Ethel Waters–esque smile that occasionally droops into death-mask despair. In one heartbreaking shot, Demme’s spirited protagonist sits dejectedly in church, struggling to find the passion to sing along with the choir—a soul in all-too-recognizable anguish due to both natural and man-made disasters.
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