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Documentary Traces Family’s Struggle After Katrina

Herbert Gettridge struggled for years to rebuild his New Orleans home in the lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. In an interview, producer June Cross describes how she documented Gettridge's story in "The Old Man and the Storm" which airs on "Frontline" on Jan. 6.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Finally tonight, a unique perspective on post-Katrina New Orleans. Independent filmmaker and NewsHour alumna June Cross spent two years tracking the struggles of one man and his family to rebuild their lives after the hurricane. The resulting film is called “The Old Man and the Storm.” It will air Tuesday night on PBS’s “Frontline” series.

    I talked with June Cross earlier this week.

    You know, it’s been almost three-and-a-half years since the storm. What drew you back to New Orleans to continue telling that story?

  • JUNE CROSS, Filmmaker, “The Old Man and the Storm”:

    It was impossible to not keep going back to New Orleans. After I had gone that first time, I really thought that city had died. And it just refused to — it sort of refused to die. The people in it just insisted on bringing it back.

    And then the story itself was just amazing. I mean, it was like being in a third-world country, except I think even in third-world countries the NGOs were able to get in and do a better job than the United States government did in New Orleans.

    So it was one of those stories that, once I got into it, I really couldn’t leave it. It kept calling me, and I had to keep going back.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The old man of “The Old Man and the Storm” is in his 80s, a tough old guy. How did you find Mr. Gettridge?

  • JUNE CROSS:

    They don’t make them like that anymore. They really don’t.

    I was walking around the Ninth Ward. I had been actually talking to a family that lived a couple of blocks away from Mr. Gettridge, who decided that the trauma of dealing with the whole situation and trying to reveal their lives on a documentary was just going to be too much to bear.

    And so I was walking around. And a couple of blocks away, I found Mr. Gettridge, who was out there cleaning his house. He lives four blocks away from where the levees had breached in the Lower Ninth Ward. And he was there with a wheelbarrow just wheeling — he didn’t even have a truck. He was just wheeling his stuff from the yard back to the street.

    And at first, he didn’t even want to talk to me, because he had set himself a task, a goal for that day, and I was going to interrupt his progress. And we did finally sort of persuade him to sit down and at least tell us what had happened to him and his family. They were scattered all over the United States.

    And the more I got to know Mr. Gettridge, I began to realize that he represented more than a man, an old man in the Lower Ninth Ward. He represented really a — he represented several things, but most immediately the craftsmen who had built that city.

    His home, which he had built with his own two hands in 1952, had withstood that flood, when most of the houses, almost all the houses on that block had been totally destroyed. It was one of the few that were still standing and still intact.

    And he just seemed to — you know, he represented literally the hands that had built New Orleans. And the hands that had built New Orleans were going to ensure that New Orleans came back in some way, shape or form. And he felt that…

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