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Graduate student wins grant for film on post-Katrina New Orleans

May 13, 2011

Visual and Media Arts graduate student Matthew Hashiguchi has been awarded a grant from the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors Foundation. The funds will go toward post-production costs associated with Hashiguchi’s thesis film The Lower 9: A Story of Home.

Matt shot his film, The Lower 9, on location in New Orleans.

Shot on location in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, The Lower 9 is a documentary about losing everything. “I personally don’t know what it feels like to lose my home, possessions, or way of life,” wrote Hashiguchi in his treatment for the film. “I’ve never experienced that. But I am able to understand what that experience can do to a person.”

Hashiguchi, in his director’s statement, compared the losses from Katrina to his own family’s story. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which sentenced Japanese Americans to prison and internment camps. His grandmother, then a teenager, and her parents and six other siblings were taken from their farm in California and placed in an Arizona internment camp.

“The citizens of New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward are experiencing a similar situation,” explained Hashiguchi. “For many of them, Hurricane Katrina took away everything. They were forced from their homes and swept away from their friends and families. It was their Executive Order 9066.”

The Lower 9 is told primarily through long, meditative tripod shots and audio. “You’re seeing the destruction that is still present six years after Hurricane Katrina,” said Hashiguchi. “Over this imagery, you are hearing the stories of the Lower Ninth Ward. I think the environment and the imagery told a story on its own, and looking at all of the devastation and looking at all the items that were left over from the devastation and the possessions that are still there, told a story of the life that was there before.”

When asked what he wanted viewers to learn from the film, Hashiguchi, who worked with co-producer Elaine McMillion, a fellow VMA graduate student, said that during the editing process he created a lot of space between the images and the interviews so that when something like a garden was being discussed, the image seen is completely different. This type of abstract cinematography, he said, creates room for each viewer to interpret the film as he or she wishes.

Many houses in New Orleans are still badly damaged, six years after Hurricane Katrina.

“When you step in to watch this film, it is an experience that you have to enter; when you enter it, you bring your own experience and thoughts about the world and interpret the images,” said McMillion. “People have called it highly politicized and/or simply artistic. Those two views are directly related to the experience that people come into the film with. You can’t passively sit and watch The Lower 9. You have to constantly be thinking. A lot of filmmakers do not use this technique anymore. It forces the viewer to interpret and to think.”

The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors Foundation is a nonprofit founded in 2000 to promote diversity in the entertainment industry through content and the personnel behind the camera. Its primary goal is to help launch the professional careers of student filmmakers from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the film, video, and television industry. It achieves its goal through its grants and mentoring programs. Through its grants program, student filmmakers from diverse backgrounds receive financial assistance to complete their thesis projects.

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