Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Harry Shearer's "The Big Uneasy"

Harry Shearer, producer, director and writer of "The Big Uneasy"
©Alan Smason

Harry Shearer is a man on a mission. The mission is one of information that everyone who lives in New Orleans already knows, that the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina was not a natural disaster, but in reality a man-made disaster. Shearer's film premiered last night in New Orleans and in 200 other movie theaters across the country. It was intentionally shown on the day following the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall in Louisiana In order to maximize its impact. In the film "The Big Uneasy" he lays the blame for the levee breaches squarely on the shoulders of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Shearer's provocative film tells the story of what he believes is a coordinated campaign nationwide to discredit those that differ with the "official" version of the flood that suggest the levees fell victim to the high winds and storm surge that topped the levees. The film revolves about several respected engineers and a whistleblower within the Corps who all have reached the conclusion that the system of levees failed due to shoddy construction and bad engineering on the part of the very agency assigned with the task of protecting the city. The biggest star of the film is recently dismissed L.S.U. professor Ivor van Heerden (currently suing the state for wrongful termination), whose now dismantled Hurricane Center in Baton Rouge eerily predicted that a direct hit or near miss of a substantial hurricane could bring about catastrophic failures of the levee system and cause the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (called "Mr. Go" by locals) to overflow its banks. Van Heerden is joined by University of California at Berkeley engineering professor Bob Bea in what is a well-documented indictment of the Corps of Engineers. Their findings and detailed analysis show that the levees collapsed from beneath ground and that they never were topped by the storm surge associated with the storm. John Goodman figures in the film with the comic relief of "Ask a New Orleanian," a series of questions that give more than answers. Voice overs included several by fellow New Orleans residents Brad Pitt and Jennifer Coolidge, who along with Shearer's on camera narratives were eager to help set the record straight. Shearer said that the reason he felt compelled to make the film - financed entirely out of his own pocket - was that the news media has not told the story. The Corps is exempt from any damages that might arise out of flood-related damages from the structures they maintain by law, but as Shearer so carefully points out, it has an incestuous relationship with Congress. Congressmen consider the Corps as their favorite tool to implement water projects in their home districts. Set asides make Congressmen appear to be doing something and can guarantee re-election of incumbents. Although it is a serious film, there are moments of levity in the documentary that help keep it moving along at an enjoyable pace. Like Pitt, Goodman and Coolidge, Shearer was not born in New Orleans, but came here to live and enjoy its many amenities along with his wife, singer-songwriter Judith Owen. Many celebrities like Sandra Bullock and Nicholas Cage have found the music, the food and the lifestyle too hard to resist. Shearer has made a point for his adopted city and assumed the title of a documentary film maker in the process. Known for his starring role in "This is Spinal Tap," but in more recent years for his many voice characterizations on "The Simpsons," Shearer unabashedly stated he used "Rupert Murdock's money" to fund the film. Good show, Harry. Good show.

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