Walidah Imarisha, a Philadelphia poet, journalist and activist, debuted her first film on Thursday called Finding Common Ground: Witnessing Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath in a crowded Walk Auditorium on Main Campus. The event included an introduction by Imarisha and a discussion of the film afterward.
Imarisha went to New Orleans in October with Common Ground Collective, an independent outreach, relief organization that assisted communities affected by the hurricane. Finding Common Ground is about the communities that were affected by Hurricane Katrina and neglected by the federal government, specifically focusing on the Lower 9th Ward area.
“The city refused to do anything but attack,” said Malik Raheem, founder of Common Ground Collective, of the situation in New Orleans in Imarisha’s film. That attack, Imarisha said, is what drew her to New Orleans and inspired the film.
“A brother of mine told me I had to come down here, that we didn’t know what was going on, and I knew I didn’t know what was going on. I had to go down there,” Imarisha said.
Imarisha filmed the outreach of Common Ground Collective, the devastation in the 9th Ward, and what this devastation meant for its residents.
Finding Common Ground stresses “solidarity versus charity,” Imarisha said. “[It’s] the difference between ‘I’m standing with you’ versus ‘you owe me something.” The owing of which has caused, according to Imarisha’s film, tensions in black communities versus surrounding white communities, that received a disproportional amounts of aid. The plan is to say to the federal government “you couldn’t do it with billions of dollars, we’re going to do it with nothing” Imarisha said.
Finding Common Ground is full of interviews and footage of victims who were waiting for aid from organizations such as the Red Cross weeks after the hurricane. When these organizations did come, “issues of privilege, power and patronizing were present,” Imarisha said, as the majority of victims were underprivileged.
Imarisha was a member of the roofing crew with Common Ground, who helped families put tarps on the roofs of residents who rode out the storm. The result of her filming in October is a 30-minute film that shows the devastation of broken churches, homes and cemeteries in a way that the mainstream media did not.
Temple students were hit hard by the film, including two Temple sophomores, Peter Seltzer and Charisse Haynes who discussed the possibility of going to New Orleans over spring break.
Peter Seltzer, a sophomore at Temple who is from New Orleans relocated to Temple after the hurricane. He was impressed by Imarisha’s field work journalism.
“She was able to cut through the media dome,” Seltzer said. “She went to the people that were affected to find out the real deal about what was going on.”
He said he plans on organizing a trip to New Orleans with students who wish to help in the rebuilding of the city.
Imarisha said she is hopeful for change, “I’ve seen people take care of each other.”
She is showcasing her film at other Philadelphia locations, including the Black Maria Film Festival.
The film was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts, the Pan-African Studies Community Education Program, the sociology department, and the geography urban studies department.
For more information about Common Ground Collective visit www.commongroundrelief.org.
Ellen Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.