July 30, 2007

SMU Alumna Captures “Life After Katrina”

Katherine Browne and subjects of "Still Waiting: Life After Katrina"
SMU alumna Katherine Browne (center) with subjects of her documentary, “Still Waiting: Life After Katrina."

"Still Waiting" official Web site
Katherine Browne's Web site

SMU alumna Katherine Browne’s heartbreaking documentary about a large St. Bernard Parish family fractured by Hurricane Katrina will have its Dallas premiere this week at the 20th Annual Dallas Video Festival.

“Still Waiting: Life After Katrina” will play Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Dallas Theater Center, following the documentary’s debut in New Orleans last weekend. Public television stations across the country will also broadcast it, including KERA-TV in Dallas on Aug. 28 – the eve of the second anniversary of the killer storm.

SMU was the magnet that first drew Browne to Dallas, where she earned an undergraduate degree in English in 1976 and a Ph.D. in anthropology in 1993. But she found herself returning time and again from October 2005 to March 2007 as she and filmmaker Ginny Martin taped their video documentary about a storm-displaced extended family trying to re-establish their lives temporarily in Dallas and later back in St. Bernard Parish. The story is told primarily through the voices of the family matriarchs, including Connie Tipado, the Dallas nurse who found temporary housing for them all in her adopted city.

Browne, now a professor of anthropology at Colorado State University, hopes viewers will learn from the film that the continuing distress experienced by people forced out of the New Orleans area is a unique cultural phenomenon.

“They are so very connected to the bayou," Browne said. “It’s not just about wanting to be back and seeing the faces, but of being part of the environment. The attachment to place is fierce.”

“People were optimistic that things could be returned to something comfortable and feeling normal,” Browne said. “Hope was alive…until they got back (to St. Bernard Parish) and started realizing that nothing was happening, and nothing continued to happen.

“There were so many things beyond their control,” Browne said. “People were starting to take sleeping pills. It was kind of alarming to me. This mental health specialist explained that no matter how much of a network you have in place to keep ties connected – picking it up and transplanting it somewhere else just doesn’t work. It can die.”

The film was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Colorado State University and Women in Film Foundation.

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