POV: Getting Back to Abnormal

POV: Getting Back to Abnormal

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 10:00pm - 11:30pm

Pictured: Political operative Barbara Lacen-Keller denouncing some New Orleans electoral dirty tricks.

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Kolker

What happens when America's most joyous, dysfunctional city rebuilds itself after a disaster? 

The ongoing drama of New Orleans' struggle to rise after Hurricane Katrina gets a provocative update in the new documentaryPOV: Getting Back to Abnormal, premiering Monday, July 14, 2014 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV. Serving up a rich Louisiana mix of race, money, corruption, and politics, the film tells the story of the polarizing re-election campaign of a white woman to a city council seat traditionally held by a black representative. Featuring a cast of characters as colorful as the city itself, the film presents a New Orleans that outsiders rarely see. This documentary was produced by filmmakers Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Paul Stekler and Peter Odabashian. Peter is a 1971 graduate of the University of Rochester.

Getting Back to Abnormal, as entertaining as it is serious about race in New Orleans, focuses on the 2010 re-election campaign of Stacy Head. She sees herself as a colorblind anti-corruption crusader whose sometimes jaw-droppingly politically incorrect language puts her squarely in the middle of a new black and white political battleground. Her opponents, in turn, mince no words, branding Head a racist for supporting policies that they say are driving African-Americans out of power in City Hall.

A twist in the campaign is the presence of Barbara Lacen-Keller, Head's larger-than-life black aide with immense street cred. As the unofficial "mayor" of the old Central City neighborhood, Lacen-Keller sets out to prove that her boss isn't a racist, but rather someone who gets things done for the community. Welcome to the new New Orleans.

Getting Back to Abnormal sorts through its complex and fast-moving story with gusto while providing a sense of people's love for the city--and their humor about its situation. Says David Simon, co-creator of HBO's Treme, shot in New Orleans, "In many ways, New Orleans exists only to be New Orleans in the imagination. The truth is, it's one of the most dysfunctional cities in America . . . but at the end of the day we will find a way to make you smile and dance." Or, as civil-rights lawyer Tracie Washington puts it, "I don't want a post-racial New Orleans. That would be--I hate to say--Minneapolis."

As for the intent of the filmmakers, "We really wanted to make a film that communicated the love and frustration we have for the city," say Alvarez, Kolker, Odabashian and Stekler. "We also knew we wanted the culture and richness of the place to come across as a backdrop to our political story, and so we sought out appealing local characters who could provide context. A lot of post-Katrina docs were made by outsiders who never quite captured the city's weird DNA. We'd be happy if people came away feeling like they'd spent a weekend in New Orleans, hanging out with the locals and getting the inside story."

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