Desert Bayou



Cinema Libre Studio

NEW YORK -- Were its subject matter not so inherently serious, Alex LeMay's documentary "Desert Bayou" might have played as a dark comedy. Detailing the experiences of about 600 Hurricane Katrina refugees from New Orleans being transplanted to, of all places, Salt Lake City, "Bayou" stands as an intriguing addition to weightier, similarly themed work like the telefilm "When the Levees Broke."

This little known human interest story is a fascinating one. The evacuees, nearly all of them black, found themselves airlifted to Utah without even knowing their destination until shortly before they boarded the planes. They were quickly shuttled to a military base located about 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, in a state whose population is less than 1% black.

There, they were subjected to such indignities as an evening curfew and background checks, which mistakenly determined that a good percentage of them were murderers and rapists.

The film largely concentrates on the stories of two individuals and their families: Curtis, an ex-con unable to find work because of a long-ago jail stint; and Clifford, still coping with drug and alcohol abuse problems.

As the film illustrates, the warm welcome extended by the city's mayor and many of its citizens was offset by the actions of the governor and the military base's commander, who are seem here strongly defending their positions.

Some celebrity value is provided by the presence of rapper Master P, whose parents were among the evacuees, and rabbi/television talk show host Shmuley Boteach, who flew to the area in an attempt to intervene.

"Bayou" seems overly extended at feature length, with its subject matter more appropriate for a television newsmagazine segment. But it provides an illuminating portrait of a complex situation that, like so many aspects of the Katrina disaster, seems to have been handled far less well than it could have been.