I don't envy any documentarian trying to tackle the complex tragedy of post-Katrina New Orleans, particularly in the wake of Spike Lee's masterful When the Levees Broke. In Kamp Katrina, directors Ashley Sabin and David Redmon broach the subject from an entirely different tact, taking an artless vérité approach to one of the city's infinite micro dramas of human loss.
After Katrina left thousands of New Orleans residents homeless and unemployed, construction worker David Cross and his wife Ms. Pearl opened their backyard to hurricane victims, creating a makeshift tent city in an already troubled neighborhood. Dozens of residents who literally lost everything created a sort of commune behind the home of their benevolent hosts, and Kamp Katrina documents roughly four months of the nearly Third World arrangement.
Unfortunately, this is not a film about people coming together in the wake of a tragedy to create something good or meaningful. The "kamp" is filled with crack addicts, mentally ill drifters, thieves, and violent alcoholics, and Sabin and Redmon keep the cameras rolling, lapping up all the horrific dysfunction with a leering voyeurism. We watch women drunkenly pop out their glass eyeballs, men beat on their girlfriends (while the filmmakers roll tape), pregnant women smoke crack, and the mentally ill ramble on incoherently, and that's about it.
Save for one quick scene, this isn't a film about how the system failed these residents, nor is it about the moral decay of the site's benevolent aims. What it feels like is that two documentarians discovered an uninhibited, flamboyant subject (Ms. Pearl), and when she allowed ignorant, violent drug addicts to crash in her yard, the filmmakers hit sensational pay dirt. There's nothing redemptive or humanistic about Kamp Katrina; the film is content to leer upon human suffering without actually saying anything about it.