The Lower 9: A Story of Home is an extraordinary story of four diverse residents who are trying to regain a sense of home after floodwaters rose above rooftops, claimed lives and crippled the foundations of their Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood in August of 2005. The film’s shocking, yet beautiful, cinematography of the destruction that remains nearly seven years after the hurricane captures viewers attention and brings awareness to the ongoing struggles of the neighborhood.
The destruction of Hurricane Katrina displaced over 10,000 Lower Ninth Ward residents and created an empty void in the neighborhood. However, nearly 3,000 residents have returned determined to bring back their community and replant their roots.
Returned resident, Mack McClendon, is trying to make a difference in his community. McClendon is on a mission to create a safe community center, for young and old alike. In addition to McClendon, Stanley Stewart returned after waters reached the second-floor of his home and destroyed his custom car business. With the help of volunteers, Stewart has resurrected his business and says there is no other place he would rather be. Sandos “Sam” McGee returned to the Lower Ninth Ward after spending a year in a hospital due to injuries resulting from the storm. McGee recalls the horrific night of batting his way out of an attic and almost drowning. Returning home has been a difficult transition for McGee, who suffers from depression related to the trauma of the disaster. All three of these individuals have their own reasons for coming back to the Lower Ninth Ward, yet they all convey themes of nostalgia, struggle and devotion when speaking of their home.
Unlike many contemporary documentary films, The Lower 9: A Story of Home approaches filmmaking from a hands-off approach. This technique does not employ quick handheld camerawork but instead allows the camera to be still to capture scenes for extended periods of time. Viewers are given the opportunity to actively enter into the film to interpret and understand the meaning of the abstract imagery.
In addition to contemplative imagery of the present destruction, The Lower 9: A Story of Home highlights scenes of everyday life through observational footage of Lower Ninth Ward residents. The six resilient residents, who are all living colorful lives amongst the destruction, are living proof that the people of New Orleans have an unmatched determination in life that keeps them moving forward. Although not directly connected, they all share the same strong desire to stay in this place that they call home.
Unfortunately, the story of New Orleans has become the story of Hurricane Katrina. The Lower 9: A Story of Home looks beneath the disaster to reveal the community, personal stories and importance of this tightly knit neighborhood. This is not another Katrina film but a film that looks before the storm to keep the focus and attention on the people and culture of New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward.
Founder of The Lower Ninth Ward Village
Before the storm, McClendon collected antique cars. However, the 24-foot waves stole his home, his hobby, his cars and his business. McClendon, 54, knows what it feels like to lose everything and now he is trying to make it easier for others who are dealing with the same problems to come home.
McClendon started the Lower Ninth Ward Village after Hurricane Katrina. He bought an old metal, factory and is slowly turning it into a safe community center for the people to gather in the Lower Ninth Ward. He has provided bunk beds, showers, a library, a fitness center, a computer room, a basketball court and community gardens. McClendon started the “Where’s Your Neighbor” program which focuses on finding the displaced residents of the Lower Ninth Ward who were evacuated and never heard from again. Although, his goals are large, his funds are limited. McClendon receives no money from the government, is understaffed and uses personal funds from his disability check to help his community.
Sandos “Sam” McGee
Lifetime Lower Ninth Ward Resident/Cartoonist
After Hurricane Betsy, lifetime Lower Ninth Ward resident Sandos “Sam” McGee returned home to find his city and life in disarray. His high school lost all records of his attendance and tried to force him back into the grade that he had just graduated from. He left high school and enlisted in the Marine Corps where he was immediately sent to fight in the Vietnam War.
Upon his return from the Vietnam War, Sandos was briefly married and worked in New Orleans. It was again in 2005 that Sandos was face death once again. When Hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans, he decided to stay in the Lower Ninth Ward with the goal of finding work after the storm. Sandos experience the storm first hand. Despite being stuck in an attack, washed away by the floodwaters, being seriously injured by crumbling houses, he lived to tell and share his miraculous story.
Sandos now lives in the Lower Ninth Ward and spends most of his time drawing and sketching in a neighborhood corner store.
Resident of Ninth Ward/Aspiring Actress
Despite her difficult childhood and the experience of Hurricane Katrina, Angela Shelbia, 26, looks towards the positive side of life. As a teenager, Shelbia lived in a neighborhood where drug dealers roamed the streets and in a house where the utilities were shut off and rats roamed the ground. She has noticed a slight improvement in her neighborhood and city; saying the storm washed away all of the “raggly” houses and drug dealers, leaving it a better place for people to come home to and bringing help and support that the city needs. Shelbia is currently a college student with dreams of winning an Oscar. She has many brothers and sisters and continues to live in the Lower Ninth Ward with her close-knit family.
Longtime Resident of Ninth Ward/Car Specialist
Stewart gained an interest in cars as a child and began constructing model automobiles for fun. His hobby took a serious turn when he met his mentor and began working as a mechanic and detailer. He owns his own custom body shop in the Lower Ninth Ward and is well known for his expertise. Stewart’s shop had to be rebuilt from the ground up after Hurricane Katrina stole all of his tools and equipment. Stewart continues to be a positive and hard-working figure in the community where he has lived all his life.