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August 26, 2008

UW filmmaker’s documentary on small-business struggle in New Orleans debuts on Katrina anniversary

UW filmmaker’s documentary on small-business struggle in New Orleans debuts on Katrina anniversary


Bruce Foret has spent the three years since Hurricane Katrina struggling to rebuild Oak Street Hardware in New Orleans. His city is at a tipping point: Parts are still devastated, the recovery slowed by depopulation and a bad economy. But Foret refuses to abandon his neighborhood, even as city hall paves the way for big-box stores.

A new film documents the risks small business owners took in resurrecting their neighborhoods and the threats they now face. “Independent America: Rising from Ruins” debuts Saturday (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 at http://risingfromruins.com.

Hanson Hosein, an Emmy Award winner and former NBC and Canadian Broadcasting Corp. correspondent, created the film. He is now director of the master in communication digital media program at the University of Washington. He’ll be in New Orleans this week for the premiere.

“It’s amazing how small businesses were the first to return to the city, even as chain retailers were slow to reopen,” Hosein says. “There’s a lesson for any community in distress after a disaster. Particularly in neighborhoods where residents are reluctant to return due to lack of services, especially retail.”

Hosein interviewed dozens of people in New Orleans for his film. On camera in Oak Street Hardware, for example, Hosein talks with Foret, whose hardware store has been in place since 1929. Small businesses were key in resurrecting 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 helping larger businesses than smaller ones, he adds. “They’ve forgotten about us when we’ve been in business for so many more years.”

Later in the film, Hosein interviews Naomi Klein, author of “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

“It was taken for granted that everything about the old New Orleans should be erased and replaced with something shiny and new,” and big-box stores are part of that strategy, she says.

“Why not spread the government money around and give some to local business? It’ll make a much larger impact with a much smaller price tag,” adds Dana Eness, from staylocal.org, a New Orleans initiative encouraging economic growth via small businesses.

“Independent America: Rising from Ruins” follows “Independent America: The Two-Lane Search for Mom & Pop” (http://www.independentamerica.net ). Hosein and his wife, former reporter Heather Hughes, traveled 13,000 miles and visited 32 states in 52 days. They recorded how small businesses, alone or with community leaders and similar businesses, carved places in a world where chain stores increasingly dominate.

Hosein and Hughes financed, produced and distributed the original “Two-Lane Search” with Tom Powers of Open Door a Toronto-based film and digital media company. Initial word-of-mouth about the film led to clips featured on Yahoo, which drew attention from USA Today, Business Week, ABC News and National Public Radio. Thereafter, the film was broadcast on the Sundance Channel.

“Rising from Ruins” is funded by Super Channel, which is based in Canada, as well as the UW Department of Communication.

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For more information or to arrange for a review copy of the film, contact Hanson Hosein at (206) 801-1867 or uwdigital@gmail.com. Tom Powers may be reached at (416) 587-0541 or tpowers@opendoorco.com.