When I started to study old women and films I decided not to consider documentaries as the field is too extensive. I’m Carolyn Parker was screened at the LFF a few days ago . I had recently read ‘Agewise: fighting the New Ageism in America’ by Margaret Morganroth Gullette. In the chapter about the casualties of Katrina she exposes how the old, poor and disabled suffered the most. The Jonathan Demme film seemed to be about an old woman ‘s resistance in New Orleans after the hurricane – I had to see it.
I was not disappointed. The director followed Carolyn Parker’s fight to return to her severely damaged house in a poor neighbourhood and to have it renovated to its previous state. It took 5 years and battles with the officials of the commission who wanted to redevelop the area (‘over my dead body’ she says), the local politicians and then the crooked contractors. She also was involved in fighting to restore the local community church. Throughout she had the support of her daughter.
What is remarkable in this film is that although a documentary, it is structured like a feature film. The narrative centers around the return to and renovation of the house. The heroine is Carolyn Parker a black, disabled woman of around 60 years. We get to know her past, her family, her community, her struggles, her anger and tenacity and sense of fun. “Instead of trying to make fiction real, I was trying to find what was dramatic and entertaining about reality” said Demme. He has succeeded. But will the critics and distributors recognise the value of this film? Will they have the vision of screening nationally this example of resistance in these days of cuts affecting the more disadvantaged? Or will it as one critic predicts find a happy future on More 4 and disappear?
If the film is shown go and see it. If you belong to a film society ask for it. If it is available on DVD buy it.