LeMay’s feature doc “Desert Bayou” delves into Katrina’s human psyche in tale of two families

When Hurricane Katrina rocked New Orleans in 2005, filmmaker Alex LeMay became fixated on the soul behind the ruin.

Seizing on a short item he read in The New York Times, and wanting to stir thought-provoking reflection, LeMay produced feature length documentary “Desert Bayou,” that will premiere during the week of Katrina’s second anniversary.

Distributed by Echelon, “Desert Bayou” opens Aug. 24 at well-known Quad Theatre in New York, followed by a nationwide release a week later. LeMay said it will hit Chicago in September.

“Desert Bayou” chronicles 600 African-Americans who were airlifted from their Louisiana homes to a Mormon community in Utah.

Over the past two years, Taproot crews shadowed two families, whose exodus to the largely white, Mormon enclave became a second storm, one of chaos, prejudice and bureaucratic indifference.

“Everything about the evacuees from New Orleans is polar opposite to Utah. This is a story of below sea level, African-American, Baptist Democrats going into an above sea level, Mormon, Republican, white bastion. It’s a clash-of-culture, fish-out-of-water story,” he said.

Utah is a state overwhelmingly comprised of white residents with less than 1% of people of color. The film examines whether two markedly dissimilar cultures can rally together in a time of sheer pandemonium.

Crews are currently back in New Orleans and Salt Lake City to capture updated footage, including recent political opinion on the delay in reconstruction. The additional scenes will add 15-minutes to the present 60-minute cut.

Declining to comment on the budget, LeMay said its primary investor is Jim Finkl of Finkl & Sons Co. the Bucktown-based steel company.