The bio under Harry Shearer's by-line for his Huffington Post column reads like a Tweet: "Just a Guy." A modest understatement. Given his Zelig-esque versatility, and the plethora of projects in which he participates—from voicing a dozen+ characters on "The Simpsons," playing Bass for Spinal Tap and the Folksman, writing a column for Huffington Post, creating LeShow a weekly NPR satire program, producing touring art exhibitions, and (for the first time ever) directing a feature documentary—he thought it best to keep it simple. With Sheraer's documentary, The Big Uneasy, premiering in theatres across the U.S. for One Night Only event on Monday August 30th, the ever modest guy agreed to step into the spotlight to answer a few "Uneasy" questions.
As a man of many talents—actor, comedian, writer, voice talent, artist, musician, radio satirist, and filmmaker—how do you prefer to define yourself?
What drove you to make a doc about New Orleans, as opposed to satire or something akin to David Simon's HBO series "Treme"?
Satire depends on the audience knowing the same facts that the satirist does, before the playing can begin. In the case of the near-drowning of New Orleans, that was exactly the problem—the national media narrative of the event (big hurricane floods city below sea level) was totally different from what New Orleanians, thanks to their Pulitzer-winning local newspaper, had learned about the cause of the flooding.
How important is music to this project? What music did you listen to while making the film? How did the musical rhythms of New Orleans affect the production?
Music was crucial, as was great cinematography, in taking what threatened to be an educational film and undergirding it with an emotional impact that resonated with the stories of the three principals. David Torkanowsky, the composer, was very determined that the music, while being a film score, had an authentic New Orleans feel to it, and so many of the greatest players and singers in town were enlisted for the project.
And editor, Tom Roche, got totally smitten with the Treme Brass Band scene at the Candlelight Lounge.
How did politics, point of view, and emotion impact editorial decisions for The Big Uneasy?
Politics, not at all.
Both Democrats and Republics sat by while the Corps of Engineers made the mistakes that resulted in the flood.
Point of view? I knew the people who'd done the investigations, I let them tell their stories, and then tried to tighten the narrative to make it compelling to a wide audience.
Tell us about the decision to make this a single night theatrical event. How important is it to see this with an audience?
I thought it was important to see the film in the context of the national media re-running their emotion-laden coverage, totally leaving out the "reason-why". I intended this film to be the answer to that question.
What is unique about your take on New Orleans? What new perspective does The Big Uneasy shine on the Post-Katrina discussion? What surprised you most while you were shooting? What is the most important thing you want an audience to take away from this screening?
I think the unique factor is my concentration not on the suffering stories, of which there are hundreds of thousands, but on the reason why so many people were made to suffer, and die. The new perspective should be that the federal government, which pledged more than four decades ago to protect New Orleans, came frighteningly close to destroying it.
What surprised me was, given the fact that two of the principals in the film were people I'd talked to (via radio) but never met, how much I liked those people, and therefore, how confident I was that the audience would like them, too.
The important takeaway: this is not just a New Orleans problem, more than 100 American communities have questionable levee protection. Maybe (to quote Randy Newman), maybe we're doing it wrong.
The Big Uneasy will screen for ONE DAY ONLY on Monday, August 30th at 7:00pm & 9:30pm at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, in Atlanta. Check here for local listings.
Follow the The Big Uneasy channel on YouTube.
Follow The Big Uneasy on Twitter.
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