Renee Wilson is an everyday woman living in San Francisco, Calif. Renee has led a successful career both as an actress (best known for her work in “Ray”) and a singer-songwriter. When Hurricane Katrina hit, the New Orleans native felt compelled to go behind the camera and share an insider's perspective to the disaster.
Five years in the making, “Crepe Covered Sidewalks,” is the award-winning documentary that follows her family's journey after the hurricane to rebuild their community. Renee now serves as an ambassador of New Orleans and encourages people to not forget and activate into action.
“Crepe Covered Sidewalks” will be showing at the 9th Annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival, January 14-16, in Nevada City. Renee will make a special appearance to take questions following her film.
What inspired you to make “Crepe Covered Sidewalks”?
“I wanted to tell a story about New Orleans from an insider's perspective. As a native of New Orleans I feel and breathe this place. I wanted to tell the truth from my experience and show us as human beings not simply statistics. I was disappointed with much of the national mass media coverage and set out to get to the heart of this tragedy.”
What did you really want to get across to audiences in the film?
“I wanted to share the human experience and reality of not only Hurricane Katrina but also the systematic ills that plague our communities.
“Many larger issues that relate to Katrina are present all over the world. I want the audience to relate in a very personal way to my family and to what we are going through as if it were your aunt or your friend that died in the flood. I want the audience to see and feel reality and be inspired to act.”
Have people forgotten about Hurricane Katrina? If so, why?
“Yes and no. I do believe that many have forgotten about Katrina because it is no longer in the news, and people want to believe that the city is coming back strong.
What did you find most shocking about how the government responded to Hurricane Katrina?
“There are many things that happened on the ground during Katrina that I think were handled poorly. Separating families (often times parents from children) by placing them on different busses and shipping them off to different cities without a plan for reconnecting them. Citizens being treated as if they were criminals and fired upon when trying to evacuate.
“Vigilante killings, the President's failed promises, no-bid contracts worth millions of dollars given to corporations that have not fulfilled their work in relation to New Orleans recovery efforts, and most of all, sheer neglect by the government to take immediate action in helping the people of New Orleans when we needed it most. We are five years in and many neighborhoods still look the same as they did right after the storm.
Is this story much larger than a hurricane?
“This story is not just about New Orleans. This is an American story and a global story of how we care for each other in our times of need and the resilience of the human spirit. It is also an opportunity to look at the systematic issues of racism, classism and sexism that is present in our society in general and how that plays out in a more magnified way in times of disaster.”
Upon your first visit to New Orleans after the flood, what were your biggest surprises?
“The sheer number of people who were no longer there was really hard to swallow.
“So many people had lost their lives or had been evacuated that it seemed like a completely different city to me. Military presence was overwhelming and scary. The city was dark literally and figuratively.”
What was your opinion of the media's coverage of the hurricane?
“Oftentimes one-sided. This was one of my main motivators for making “Crepe.” I watched the news obsessively during and after Katrina and was angered and disappointed by the portrayal of New Orleanians as looters, refugees, criminals, etc. No one knew who to trust and this type of coverage was simply not helpful.”
You've described the film as your love letter to New Orleans. After five years of working on the film, how has it enhanced your relationship with the city, and where do you hope to go from here?
“I love my city, even more so now after working so many years on this project. I am committed to being a part of the collective growth and improvement of New Orleans and preserving our unique culture.
“I will use my film as a way to keep the conversations going and touch the heart of the viewers. I am also creating an educational scholarship for people in New Orleans who are interested in improving/healing their lives through self-transformation work and beginning a new film project that will shoot in New Orleans this year.”
We continue to hear stories of everyday people rebuilding New Orleans. How does this film speak to the power of the everyday person making a difference in their community?
“You see the brilliance and resilience of this community. You see them protesting together, providing for one another and caring for each other. When the government failed, we picked up the slack.
“Everyday citizens opened up their homes to family and strangers because that is what the situation called for. It is woven in the fabric of this community to support one another and being a part of this has been one of my most treasured experiences while working on this film.
What is your message to women around the world?
“You are special. You are beautiful. To follow your heart, it will always guide you in the right direction. I believe in sisterhood, for sure, and I hope that we can inspire each other to live our best lives while we are here and make a positive impact where we can.
“My film was a labor of love and it has positively changed the course of my life forever. Find what you are passionate about, believe in it whole-heartedly and make it happen.
See Jane Do is a multi-media program capturing the stories of everyday women doing extraordinary things for the planet. Catch the one-hour talk radio program on KVMR 89.5FM the first Wednesday of every month from 1 p.m.-2 p.m. For more information, visit www.seejanedo.com.
See Renee's film during the Wild & Scenic Film Festival's Local Filmmaker Session on Saturday, Jan. 15, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Nevada City Elementary School, 505 Main Street, Nevada City, CA. For tickets go to www.wildandscenicfilmfestival.org.