Harry Shearer, probably best known for his voice work on The Simpsons (Montgomery Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, Reverend Lovejoy, and many others) joined us at the Curzon in Soho for the screening of his new documentary The Big Uneasy, followed by a Q&A.
The Big Uneasy focuses on the failings of the US Army Corps of Engineers both in the preparation and response to the flooding which took place in New Orleans in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. Rather than the natural disaster the government claims Katrina to be, Shearer’s documentary aims to show that it was man-made and could have been prevented. Shearer, a part-time resident of New Orleans was compelled to put together a documentary for the 5th anniversary of the disaster when he felt that Americans were beginning to lose the real narrative of what happened in New Orleans.
I attended last night’s screening and Q&A of course and was surprised to say the least. My expectations were more along the lines of seeing disaster footage and the images of the chaos which ensued from the flooding. Instead, The Big Easy shows how people have been working to put their lives back together while dealing with the Corps of Engineers who have been trying very hard to block attempts at uncovering the truth about how the levees were initially put together and why the collapsed in the storm floods. Even more startling is that continue to use the same flawed design in their rebuilding to protect New Orleans from future flooding, because it’s cheaper and easier.
Here in London, we have the Thames Barrier which was built to protect us from floods like the ones which occurred in 1928 and the North Seas flood in 1953 which killed 307 people and sank the MV Princess Victoria. With climate change and rising sea levels, officials know that additional barriers need to be built in order to keep the land protect from further flooding, so I was keen find out from Shearer what he would say to Mayor Boris Johnson to help us get those barriers built in time:
HARRY: You know, I was strangely enough sitting across a table in the BBC cafeteria with Mayor Boris Johnson on Sunday morning as we were both on the Andrew Marr show so I should have said it to him then! I don’t know enough about the bureaucracy or the way that decisions about that are made in this country but clearly based on what I’ve learned on this film I would say ask the Dutch! Do what they say!
People in the States talk about the Thames Barrier as a good example – which tells you how bad a shape we’re in! The Dutch have had 700 years of experience of trial and error and the most ironic fact about all of this is in 1953 the Dutch had a really serious flood, very devastating. And they sent in engineers to gain assistance and advice and they sent them to New Orleans. Because at the time, and still to this day, we talk about those city pumps that pump out the rain water, they’re the biggest, best pumps in the world. To this day. They were invented in New Orleans in 1912; they’re called the Wood Pump, not because they’re made of wood, but because an engineer named Wood invented them. The Dutch came to look at the Wood Pumps in 1953, so the Dutch will go anywhere to learn and are pretty humble about taking advice form anybody and incorporating it into their philosophy and adapting their philosophies as they go along. So I would just say; bring the Dutch in!
There you have it, Mayor Boris Johnson. Hurry up and get those barriers built!
Many thanks to Curzon cinemas for once again having us there and thank you to Harry Shearer.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .