By Joe Newman
SILVER SPRING, MD. -- Director Harry Shearer offered a disclaimer to the AFI Silver theater audience Tuesday night before the screening of his documentary The Big Uneasy: They probably weren't going to be happy at the end of the movie.
But hopefully, Shearer said, they could have a good time not being happy.
Shearer didn't disappoint. The Big Uneasy makes you angry.The 90-minute long documentary -- which was shown during the Whistleblower Film Series sponsored annually by POGO and the DC Labor FilmFest -- details how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed miserably to protect the people of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.
The Corps quickly blamed the failure of its levees on a hurricane so large and powerful that nothing could have prevented what happened in August 2005. The Corps' explanation that it was an unpreventable natural disaster became the official media narrative.
Except, it wasn't true.
The Big Uneasy dissects the Corps' Big Lie and shows that design flaws led to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans. Shearer, who is best known for his role in This is Spinal Tap and as the voice for several characters in The Simpsons, presents the scientists and the Army Corps of Engineers whistleblower who found evidence that the Hurricane Katrina aftermath was a man-made disaster, not a natural one.
Those whistleblowers suffered personally and professionally for their courage. Maria Garzino, an engineer for the Corps,told the AFI audience that her decision to blow the whistle on the faulty levee pumps have marginalized her in the Corps and have effectively ended her career. She remains employed but says she has not been allowed to do any meaningful work since she brought the problems to light.
At a Monday speech at The National Press Club, Shearer, a part-time New Orleans resident, said the Corps operates with little government oversight in a "culture of impunity." In his movie, he describes how Congress does little to hold the Corps accountable; for members of Congress, the Corps provides the pet projects -- drainage and flood control work -- that they can tout to their constituents.
During the Q&A after the movie, one audience member who described himself as "just a regular guy," told Shearer that his film was the first one to inspire him to write a letter to the president. If everyone who saw the film did that, Shearer said, the public might actually provoke some accountability.
Joe Newman is POGO's director of communications.