Documentary tackles plight of Katrina pets

Published February 28, 2007

Tom McPhee didn't know what he was going to do once he got to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. All he knew was he had to go.

"On Sunday, Sept. 4, I listened to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on the radio and we were pretty moved and we felt we needed to do something," McPhee of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said during a recent phone interview.

"I didn't know what we were going to do; I was just struck at how terrible everything was, and I had to help, period."

Later that day, McPhee and his girlfriend at the time packed their car with food, supplies, two still cameras and two videocameras and drove to Gonzales, La.

Two years later, McPhee has turned what he experienced into a 97-minute documentary that focuses on what he calls the biggest domestic animal crisis ever experienced in the history of the United States.

The movie centers on how, in some cases, dogs and cats were rescued and, in other cases, killed.

"We thought we were going to be going house to house in waders pulling bodies," said McPhee, 42. "We didn't have a thought about animals, or pets."

McPhee said it wasn't until he saw the Lamar Dixon Expo Center, a place where rescued animals were being kept, that he knew what he was going to do.

McPhee, who has dabbled in films in the past, will show the documentary he calls An America Opera at the Gasparilla Film Festival in Tampa. It will play at the Channelside 10 & IMAX on Thursday and Friday.

In its first year, the film festival, which runs today through Sunday, will bring 43 films to the Bay Area.

After most screenings, the filmmaker or director will remain for a question-and-answer period.

McPhee will be in town to discuss his movie.

The film festival was founded last year with seed support from the Tampa Bay Film Commission.

A board of directors was formed, and the Tampa Film Institute, which manages the festival, was created.

"We have a vibrant and strong film community," said Sherri Simonetti, executive director of the Gasparilla Film Festival.

"Tampa has many things Gasparilla. We have a run, an arts festival. (Gasparilla) is our largest arts and cultural celebration, and this just fits right in."

The films are grouped in five sections: showcase of the Americas, fun and fear, new horizons, shorts, and young filmmakers.

"Film festivals exist to allow smaller filmmakers to have their films seen, like An American Opera," Simonetti said.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Fast fact

If you go

Film festival: The Gasparilla Film Festival runs today through Sunday at various venues in Tampa.

Schedules: For a listing of films, schedules and locations, go to www.gasparillafilmfestival.com.

Documentary: An American Opera will be shown at 2 p.m. Thursday and 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Channelside 10 & IMAX, 615 Channelside Drive, Tampa.

Phone: Fore more information, call 813-221-0700.

Prices: Screening prices are $8 for adults and $5 for seniors and students.