Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Hurricane on the Bayou; Johnstown Flood
The IMAX film “Hurricane on the Bayou” shows now only in one theater in the DC area, the Hazy-Udvar Imax Theater at the new Smithsonian-Nasa Museum at Dulles Airport in Chantilly, VA. It costs $12 to park there to go, but the facility is huge and understandably has to charge to operate. I wish the show were available at the downtown locations.
IMAX, remember, has a film size of ten times conventional size, and since about 1997, there have been some impressive films in IMAX-3D, and a few major studio releases (like Harry Potter movies) are being offered in IMAX, a practice that takes up display time as most IMAX documentaries are only about 45 minutes or so. A variation of IMAX that became popular in the 1980s is Omnimax, with a half-planetarium-like screen.
The Hurricane film, from MacGillivray-Freeman films [directed by Greg MacGillivray] and The Weather Channel, shows actual footage of the Hurricane Katrina event in 2005 in New Orleans, as well as the horror of the immediate aftermath. (It’s ironic to see corporate brand trademarks like ING hanging from the Superdome as the victims live in squalor.) But the main point of the film is that what helped contribute to this tragedy was not just global warming, but the practice of dredging and building levees along the Mississippi River, back to the 1930s. As a result, the wetlands do not get replenished with silt, and wash away, leaving the New Orleans area vulnerable to perhaps ten extra feet of storm surge compared to what it was during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The film shows repeated spectacular views of the remaining flat wetlands with their maze of waterways.
There was a PBS “American Experience” film called “Fatal Flood” about the 1927 flood on the Mississippi, along with the politics of Leroy Percy and his gay son Will. That flood contributed to the incentive to build the levees to protect southern cotton farming near the river, as well as more conventional farming farther north, up to St. Louis.
There have been some other important films on Cable about Katrina, the most important being Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts”. Another is National Geographic’s “Inside Hurricane Katrina.”
But a more interesting comparison comes from Johnstown Flood (2003, Inecom, dir. Mark Bussler, narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, DVD), about the flood of Johnstown, PA and other communities when an earthen dam built upstream (on the Little Conemaugh River) for the recreation of the rich (“the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club” burst on May 31, 1889 during torrential storms. Even a passenger Pennsylvania Railroad train was swept away. Over 2200 people died. Most of the film is in black-and-white and reconstructs the scenery and incident with great realism, and there are many old actual photographs. I wonder what this would have looked like in IMAX. A similar film is shown at the Johnstown flood museum (which I visited in 1994).