UW Today

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August 21, 2008

‘Rising from Ruins’: UW filmmaker traces recovery struggle

Bruce Foret has spent the three years since Hurricane Katrina struggling to rebuild Oak Street Hardware in New Orleans. But the anniversary of Katrina this month finds Foret and other small businesses in the city facing another threat: big-box stores either rebuilding or coming to the city, subsidized by tax breaks.

Hanson Hosein, a UW communication professor and independent filmmaker, documents in his new film the risks small business owners took in resurrecting their neighborhoods and the threats they now face. Independent America: Rising from Ruins debuts Aug. 30 at We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For, a symposium sponsored by The New Orleans Institute, which focuses on innovative ways to restore the city. The film trailer is available at: http://www.independentamericafilm.com. It is also available on YouTube and in high definition on Vimeo.

Hosein has spent weeks preparing for the debut, and is anxious. At his Web site, (http://www.independentamerica.net) he says, “Editing a scriptless, narration-free documentary is like playing death match chess — with yourself.”

Hosein interviewed dozens of people for the film. On camera in Oak Street Hardware, for example, Hosein talks with Foret, whose business has been in place since 1929. Small businesses were the ones who resurrected New Orleans neighborhoods after Katrina Foret says, but the storm and its aftermath damaged his business more than anticipated. Government authorities seem more focused on large businesses than small ones, Foret says. “They’ve forgotten about us when we’ve in business for so many more years.”

Later in the film, Naomi Klein, author of Shock Doctrine, says tax subsidies encourage big-box stores to open in New Orleans but that the Bush administration is using the subsidies “as payback and a legalized form of bribery.”

Klein is followed by Dana Eness of staylocal.org, a New Orleans initiative encouraging economic growth via small businesses. She says why not spread the government money around; give some to local businesses.

Independent America: Rising from Ruins follows Hosein and his wife Heather Hughes’ 2005 documentary, Independent America: The Two-Lane Search for Mom & Pop. The couple traveled 13,000 miles through 32 states in 52 days, recording how small businesses, either by themselves or together with community leaders and similar businesses, carve places in a world where big chain stores make big footprints.

But the film also makes room for those who want large chains. Hosein and Hughes filmed residents of Flagstaff, Ariz., who fiercely defended, indeed encouraged Wal-Mart to build a new store in their city, saying it’s part of free enterprise and keeping the local economy healthy.

On the road, Hughes and Hosein followed two rules: No interstates, only two-lane highways or country roads, and no chain outfits such as Wal-Mart, Best Western or McDonald’s. Ironically, the couple point out, chains such as Starbucks, Borders and Wal-Mart each started with one privately owned store.

Hosein and Hughes financed, produced and distributed The Two-Lane Search themselves. Word-of-mouth distribution eventually led to clips featured on Yahoo, which led to attention from USA Today, Business Week, ABC News and National Public Radio. It’s a bottoms-up method of distribution gaining traction among independent filmmakers.

At the UW, Hosein is director of the Master in Communication Digital Media program. He was a correspondent for CBC News and a Middle East producer and online correspondent for NBC. He won an Emmy award for his NBC Nightly News coverage of the fall of Kosovo. Hughes was an anchor for CHBC Television in British Columbia.

Independent America: Rising from Ruins will be broadcast on Canada’s Super Channel in November. Hosein and Hughes are also talking with other broadcasters, including NHK, the Japanese public broadcasting company.