Directors Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, who collaborated on Redmon’s directorial debut “Mardi Gras: Made in China” two years ago, bring a unique and extraordinary alternative to the increasing amount of Hurricane Katrina-related docs with “Kamp Katrina.” The film follows two New Orleans citizens, construction worker David Cross and his eccentric wife, known as Ms. Pearl, as they turn the backyard of their home into a haven for neighbours displaced by Hurricane Katrina. What results is an artful and touching study of what happens to a mini-community of ravaged individuals. The film opened last week in New York.
Please introduce yourself…
Ashley Sabin: I’m 24 and right now my day and night job is making and distributing our films. I grew up in a very small town of Washington, Connecticut. Currently David and I are in the process of moving from Brooklyn to Mansfield, Texas for six months to a year to save money so that we can keep making films. All I will say about the move is that it will be very different than living in Brooklyn.
David Redmon: Next week I begin teaching two documentary storytelling courses at TCU (but I’m not Christian). Storytelling through visual means is my job, though I’d say it’s more of a passion. I was born and raised rural Mansfield, TX.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become filmmakers?
AS: I fell into filmmaking, and I didn’t study it. Actually, I studied Art History at the Pratt Institute. David was making “Mardi Gras: Made in China” while I was still in school and I would help, but it wasn’t until I graduated and took on the distribution of “Mardi Gras” that I really became involved. Afterwards I started shooting. So the roles evolved and now here I am in the middle of it. It’s the creative aspect of filmmaking/storytelling that appeals to me the most. I want to paint and draw more, but the computer and final cut take the hours away in the day. So one day it’ll happen.
DR: I was curious where Mardi Gras beads came from so I picked up a camera and went to China. No training in film. I think “Mardi Gras: Made in China” helped me learn how to begin making films. Plus, encountering so many giving people at film festivals is always a learning experience. My other creative outlet is reading, though it’s not very creative. I’m writing a book right now titled “Beads, Breasts, and Business: A Story of Globalization Gone Wild“!
How did the idea for “Kamp Katrina” come about?
AS: I’ll let David take over on this question.
DR: Oh boy. Ms. Pearl is the main character in “Kamp Katrina”. I met Ms. Pearl in New Orleans when I was making “Mardi Gras: Made in China” (she’s the main reveler who guides us through the rambunctious streets during Carnival). She was walking down a street wearing bright costume, looked at me – with a smile – and asked for my name. I immediately started filming her. I continued filming her after the completion of “Mardi Gras: Made in China” in the hopes of making a character sketch of her life and her neighborhood (I’ll finish that film soon). However, Hurricane Katrina hit. Three weeks after the hurricane, I returned to New Orleans to finish the story about Ms. Pearl and that’s when Kamp Katrina was born. One day she walked into Washington Square Park and spontaneously offered her backyard to fourteen people without homes (while we were filming). Fourteen people moved in for six months – and lived in tents. Ashley and I documented the entire experience, mostly while staying in Ms. Pearl’s house and her backyard.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
AS: “Kamp Katrina” took us by surprise we did not plan it, and made a lot of decisions based on our gut. We lived at the Kamp for six intense months. This is not something we like to highlight because the biggest challenge was for the individuals who were in our film and had no way out. However it was difficult for me to put my emotions to the side; I wore my heart on my sleeve. The hardest part about making any film is knowing when you put the camera away and are a friend, and when you film as a filmmaker. I don’t think I have any answers but I tend to be an emotional filmmaker by nature.
DR: Everything from no one returning phone calls to dealing with incredible difficulties in New Orleans.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
AS: Our approach to filming was to capture moments as they passed by. We shot the film verite style and did not ask what was going to happen in the next hour or minute. We experienced the day as it would unfold. I think this is both a good and bad thing. It allows you to capture authentic moments but it also can make some of the footage very difficult to edit. We also did very few interviews. We got to know people through actions and just being there over time.
DR: My camera is an ear as well as a lens. That’s part of my approach. It’s almost always hands-off. Be patient, let the story unfold, and establish trust. I try to stay in the locations where we shoot our films, whether it’s a factory in China, a small space in Reynosa, Mexico, or the backyard in New Orleans.
How did you finance the film?
AS: We financed the film through the independent distribution of “Mardi Gras: Made in China”. A private donor also donated some money but mainly it is through hustling our work and trying to make enough money to buy tapes, pay for food, rent, equipment, etc. I should also mention our films do not have huge budgets. We work with what we have and this can be extremely limiting but also exciting at the same time.
What are your biggest creative influences?
AS: Creative influences are everyone from big name filmmakers (Igmar Bergman, John Cassavetes, Vilgot Sjoman, etc) to filmmakers that are doing the same thing we are making and producing work with limited means.
DR: Mark Becker, Mayles Brothers, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Mohammad Rasoulof, Lynne Ramsay, Lodge Kerrigan and Michael Cain.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
DR: I don’t know anymore. I just make the films and others can assign the independent label.
What are some of your all-time favorite films and recent favorite films?
AS: All time favorites, Scenes from a Marriage, and “I am Curious“. Ironically both Swedish filmmakers… Some recent films, “Billy the Kid“, “Guatemalan Handshake“, “Small Town Gay Bar“, “The Great World of Sound“, and “Low and Behold” to name a few.
What are your interests outside of film?
AS: My newest interest is to run and not sit in front of the computer editing as much. I also enjoy reading fiction to get out of my intense reality documentary head.
DR: Petting dogs and experimenting with ideas on how to tell nonlinear stories outside the three act structure.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
AS: Success as a filmmaker happens when I sit in a theater or on my futon/bed and watch a film, and I’m moved either negatively or positively. If a filmmaker can do this to a person I feel that this is the biggest reward. My goal as a filmmaker is to continue to produce. I want to always be pushing and challenging myself (and audiences) and tell stories in different ways. It would be nice to be more financially stable but hey that’s why we are moving to Texas to save a bit.
DR: I don’t know. My goal is to have as many people as possible see the film, but also to move them in way that’s touching and poetic instead of didactic. I’ll think more about your question and respond with a better answer next year with our next film titled “Intimidad.”