At the Reliant Center, while volunteering for the Red Cross, I talked with survivors over the course of several days, mostly on camera, about how they made it through one of the worst natural—and then manmade—disasters in U.S. history. I began filming Kellen Smith, who was 23 when Katrina hit, after meeting him through a mutual friend in September 2006. He’d relocated to Houston to find work and produce music.
Kellen and I first sat down for about an hour in a dimly lit music studio on the southside of Houston. Our friend, also a producer, sat behind the camera as Kellen walked me through his Katrina experience. I didn’t have to press too hard to get details. He was already a good storyteller.
Kellen described in perfect detail the thick mud that stuck to the floors and walls of his parents’ house, which Katrina destroyed. “The refrigerator,” he told me, “was black, but not from dirt; that’s how many bugs was in there.” We discussed Betsy, too—arguably the most devastating hurricane prior to Katrina that swallowed New Orleans in 1965. Kellen, like the black New Orleanians I spoke with at the Reliant Center, talked about the eerie connection between Betsy and Katrina. There was nothing natural about these hurricanes, they told me. Some believed that there had been an outside explosion of New Orleans’ levees meant to save the French Quarter and redirect flood waters to poorer and blacker neighborhoods.
I’ve interviewed Kellen several times over the past nine years; the last time was early this month. The resulting short film, “Kellen and Katrina,” features video from our meetings and 2005 footage from Kellen’s own collection.