Documentary "Forced Change” Stalls and Stammers, but is Never Without Purpose
A story that many think they know, and one that many have lived.
In the span of a few recent months, there’s been two Hurricane Katrina documentaries released: the one that’s had the most word of mouth Katrina Babies (now playing on HBO Max), and the one that’s being reviewed here Forced Change (now available on demand). Of course, the last few months have been hurricane season here in the Gulf region, and just last month was the 17th anniversary of Katrina’s landfall. Poetic timing, huh? Sure thing.
Forced Change and Katrina Babies don’t just share the theme of the storm itself, but the uprooting of New Orleanians to other locations. It’s a pretty powerful and heavy topic, to lose one’s physical and emotional attachments to place and memory, and it’s a fear that I believe everyone shares. Pure drama? Absolutely.
While this jury waits to produce a verdict of sorts on Katrina Babies, I can safely state that Forced Change is a formidable if stale film. The documentary follows a handful of families and couples, using home video of the storm and its aftermath plus after-the-fact interviews and story follow-ups, telling their collective story with well-paced precision and sincerity. Indeed, the sincere nature of the film is its strongest element, as the people - the survivors - aren’t just subjects, but active filmmakers in their own way.
In a strictly redundant pattern, one after another, each family and couple are documented - either by the film’s crew or by themselves - visiting their moldy and toxic homes, ravaged by the storm, to attempt a recovery of precious belongings and now faded memories. These moments are incredibly striking, as they, in their own ways, express exhaustion, sadness, and even some humor in response to the tragedy. This movie isn’t a traditional documentary - more amateur in the most positive sense - as its focus appears to be more on the stages of loss and grief and acceptance than what happened and why. Through this approach, there’s an achievement accomplished that’s simple but very prominent, and makes this tale stand out.
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Still, Forced Change doesn’t quite register as a complete vision. For certain, the “vision” of surviving one of the worst disasters in American history will never be “complete” - it’ll always be ongoing and left with an ellipsis at the end. As a whole though, the film just isn’t polished or very clean. What I mean is on a technical level. The same music is used again and again for transitions, sequences are repeated and repeated in succession (same story, different names), and at a brisk hour and some change, the duration just doesn’t keep up with itself. Minor issues compounded make for challenges in viewing and in feeling.
I felt plenty in Forced Change, but I fear that others will only have general emotions. The individual experience of two brothers cleaning out a damaged home was the one in the movie that I connected with the most. Even at such a peak tense time, my family and I would likely try our best to put on a good front about something so horrible, had we been in such a position (we were extremely fortunate during and after the storm). Despite the incredible diary-like footage that’s used sparingly, and despite its genuineness, Forced Change just doesn’t pack the cinematic punch that it deserves to.
Does it have to be so impactful? And what “impact” would it be trying to make? Is there a mission - a message? Maybe it merely just wants its story to be known. Seventeen years later, we’re still stuck in a moment. A moment that just barely budges. One moment, one story, plenty of storytellers, never-ending perspectives. Forced Change is a film without enough of a thesis or a finite ending. It just is.
That’s impactful by itself. I think. 3/5
Forced Change is now available to stream on demand.