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Screening by Ithaca College's Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival Offers Sobering Look at Hurricane Katrina

 ITHACA, NY — Harry Shearer — who did a stint on the cast of “Saturday Night Live” and gave voices to more than a dozen characters on “The Simpsons” — will visit Cinemapolis in downtown Ithaca on Friday, Sept. 23, to field questions and discuss the screening of his documentary, “The Big Uneasy.” Described by “New York Times” critic Daniel M. Gold as “an indispensable part of any history of New Orleans before, during and after Katrina,” “The Big Uneasy” will be screened at 7 p.m. with a discussion to follow. Ithaca College’s Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) and 7th Art Corporation will host the event. Tickets are $9.50 for general admission, $8 for seniors (65 and older) and $8 for Students. “Harry Shearer’s appearance marks the kick-off event for FLEFF for the new academic year,” said Patricia Zimmermann, codirector of FLEFF. “This event continues the close collaboration between FLEFF and 7th Art that has been crucial to the Festival’s success.”

“The Big Uneasy” seems like an especially relevant film at this moment, given the number of disasters that have marked 2011, including the havoc generated in the Northeast by Hurricanes Irene and Lee,” added Tom Shevory, the other codirector of FLEFF. Both he and Zimmermann are Ithaca College faculty members.

“In October 2009, as I sat watching President Obama’s town hall appearance in New Orleans on an Internet feed, I heard him describe the flooding as a ‘natural disaster,’ and my head exploded,” said Shearer, a resident of New Orleans since 1988. “That’s literally the moment when I decided to make a documentary about this story, featuring the investigators, the whistleblower and everyone else I could contact who actually knew what had happened to New Orleans.”

Shearer’s film details the work of two scientific teams and a whistleblower from the Army Corp of Engineers, whose investigation concluded that the 2005 disaster in New Orleans that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was more an act of man than an act of God.

“Within a few months, both investigations had released their remarkably similar findings,” Shearer said. “The flooding of New Orleans was not a natural disaster, but rather the product of more than four decades of design and construction flaws in a levee system Congress had ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build to, ironically, protect New Orleans from serious damage from a hurricane.” Without improvements to engineering and accountability in oversight, the film cautions, history could very well repeat itself in other cities protected by similarly built levees.

In addition to his work with “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons,” Shearer has appeared on dozens of television dramas, including “ER” and “Jack and Jill” as well as 25 films. Perhaps his most memorable role was as the pipe-smoking bass player, Derek Smalls, in Rob Reiner’s rockumentary spoof, “This Is Spinal Tap,” listed among the American Film Institute’s top 100 comedy movies in American cinema. Since 1983 Shearer has hosted NPR’s comedy/music program “Le Show,” for which he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards and three Grammies.

Launched in 1997 as an outreach project from Cornell University’s Center for the Environment at Cornell University, the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival was moved permanently to Ithaca College in 2005. It is housed in the Office of the Provost as a program to link intellectual inquiry and debate to larger global issues.