Most documentaries about Hurricane Katrina — and there have been a lot in the past four years — address its many disasters, whether political, natural, man-made, and/or moral. A Bridge Life: Finding Our Way Home doesn't shy from such material, nor does it avoid the painful, shameful memories. It recycles the aerial shots of neighborhoods and school buses underwater, the photographs of people waiting on rooftops, abandoned dogs swimming through the city cesspool, and an image of the skyline billowing smoke over an empty, ravaged New Orleans. But unlike a lot of its predecessors, A Bridge Life, directed by Josh Grossberg, is less concerned with making a political statement than it is with simply telling the story of a Plantation resident who extended a hand to make a difference in the lives of a few.
Grossberg was a grad student at New York University when Hurricane Katrina hit in September 2005. Like everyone else, he stared at the TV helplessly as New Orleans drowned. He soon received an email from a Jewish group at the university seeking people to volunteer for the Red Cross. Grossberg signed up, grabbed his camcorder, and headed south to the Houston Astrodome, where he met volunteer and soon-to-be documentary subject Dan Sheffer.
A loan officer in South Florida in 2005, Sheffer was also glued to the television coverage of the storm's aftermath. As a child, he lived on a Navy base in Guam and watched as Typhoon Pamela devastated his friends' homes. Sheffer has the sort of compassionate disposition that makes him seem destined to become a righteous guy. He's willing to take a chance on people if it can make a difference.
A Bridge Life
A Bridge Life: Finding Our Way Home 6 p.m. Monday, October 26, at Cinema Paradiso, 503 S.E. Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Call 954-525-3456, or visit fliff.com.
The film identifies Sheffer as the "Good Samaritan," which feels a bit, well, biblical. Still, Sheffer is a hero to those he assists. When he flies to Houston, his only plan is to help people regain some semblance of stability. He aims to bring back as many people as he can help to start a new life in South Florida, where he can find them decent jobs, provide living space, and, most important, where he can really make a tangible difference in their lives. "I need to go get those people," he says.
However, many of the evacuees fear leaving the Astrodome, a less-than-hospitable place that at least has food, water, and medical supplies, for Plantation. Others are simply suspicious: "Why does someone want to help me all of a sudden?" asks Edwin Pierre, who ends up taking Sheffer up on his offer.
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Eventually, Sheffer gets his crew together and, after a drama-filled ride to the airport, including missed taxicabs and jumping medians, the group arrives in Florida, welcomed by local TV reporters. And that's only the first half. What follows demands the question: "Was it worth it?" But in the most trying situations, people sometimes have to take a risk. "He took a chance, and we took a chance," said Antoinette LeGaux, one of the evacuees in the film whose life was forever changed because of Sheffer's determination. "He's our guardian angel."