NPR logo 'Hurricane on the Bayou': IMAX Takes on Katrina

'Hurricane on the Bayou': IMAX Takes on Katrina

A plane flies over the Louisiana bayou. i

A plane flies over the Louisiana bayou in the IMAX film Hurricane on the Bayou. MacGillivray Freeman Films hide caption

toggle caption MacGillivray Freeman Films
A plane flies over the Louisiana bayou.

A plane flies over the Louisiana bayou in the IMAX film Hurricane on the Bayou.

MacGillivray Freeman Films
Gulf Coast residents evacuate a submerged house after Hurricane Katrina. i

Gulf Coast residents evacuate a submerged house after Hurricane Katrina. MacGillivray Freeman Films hide caption

toggle caption MacGillivray Freeman Films
Gulf Coast residents evacuate a submerged house after Hurricane Katrina.

Gulf Coast residents evacuate a submerged house after Hurricane Katrina.

MacGillivray Freeman Films

A dispatch from Noah Adams, blogging from the Gulf Coast:

Awfully hot sun in downtown New Orleans and it was only right that a cold, dark IMAX theatre was waiting for me.

The new film Hurricane on the Bayou premiered here this week. It features the always-stunning IMAX photography of southern Louisiana — both before and after Katrina. The idea was to do a film about the disappearing wetlands, and that first section opens happily with underwater shots of alligators and "Iko Iko" on the music track. Meryl Streep is the narrator and she explains how New Orleans was once sheltered by 1000 square miles of disappearing wetlands. Silt from the Mississippi replenished the marsh areas, but after levees were built to stop flooding, those muddy waters went out into the Gulf.

Then, in the film, Katrina hits. This is done mostly with special effects and news footage, followed by huge spanning views (taken from a helicopter) of the rising water… and the victims. The filmmakers stay with their theme and away from the issues of rescue and recovery. It is a bit contrived and stagy, but the music's nice and the images memorable. And the actual hurricane certainly pays off the premise (sorry, that sounds like a movie critic's take and I'm not one).

A bit later, I talked by phone with Greg MacGillivray, the long-time IMAX producer. I wanted to know if he thought he had a movie without Katrina. He said, "We were all set to create the worst case artificial computer hurricane, with special effects. I wanted people to feel the urgency. Then we got a real one — and big."

As the storm came close, MacGillivray, in Laguna Beach, Calif., started taping three news channels, 24 hours a day. Then, when it hit, he send two trucks from California. Nine people, food, generators, sleeping bags and four IMAX cameras. They rented a helicopter from the film company that was making Miami Vice — it had the special gyro-mount to keep the camera steady. MacGillivray's team was shooting three or four days later in and around New Orleans.

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