The Axe in the Attic is a noble use of DIY means: Uncertain how to respond to Hurricane Katrina, filmmakers Small and Pincus went on a road trip in late 2005. They began by filming the refugees; in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, one uprooted resident expresses awe at her new backyard and her first glimpse of snow. Their tour culminates in an extended look at the Ninth Ward, and finally, a walk through one woman’s experience with FEMA bureaucracy. “I felt sorry for the people who didn’t come with a camera crew,” Pincus remarks, after it’s clear that the office has put on a show. Simply as an act of bearing witness, Axe is an illuminating film.
What mars the movie, though not critically, is a needlessly self-reflexive approach. Axe takes frequent time-outs for the directors to express their feelings, which are both evident and irrelevant. Pincus and Small agree not to give handouts to their subjects, but Pincus relents, exacerbating Small’s guilt for not having given earlier. Never mind that the film never makes any pretense to objectivity, or that giving $10 to a man who’s lost his home is not an ethical violation comparable to, say, Errol Morris paying the soldiers from Abu Ghraib. Really, it’s not the filmmakers’ story. But more often than not, it’s clear they’ve realized that on their own.