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Soledad O’Brien & Spike Lee Tell Katrina Stories, Through Teens’ Eyes

KatrinaBus_8.14.jpgWith the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, CNN has teamed up “with 11 New Orleans-area teenagers for a documentary that captures what their lives have been like since the storm.”

The special was filmed almost entirely by the teens with handheld digital video cameras. “The teens discuss loss, depression, inspiration and redemption in their own words, diary-style.”

Children of the Storm premieres Wednesday, August 29, at 8pmET.

The full press release is after the jump…


As the Gulf region marks the second year since Hurricane Katrina, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and filmmaker Spike Lee team with 11 New Orleans-area teenagers for a documentary that captures what their lives have been like since the devastating storm. Filmed almost entirely by the teens with handheld digital video cameras, CNN: Special Investigations Unit – Children of the Storm focuses on the personal journeys of Deshawn Dabney, Brandon Franklin, Amanda Hill and Shantia Reneau.

Children of the Storm premieres on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 8 p.m., with replays on Saturday, Sept. 1, and Sunday, Sept. 2, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. All times Eastern.

Before Hurricane Katrina, 75,000 children attended public schools in New Orleans and suburban St. Bernard Parish. The teens in the documentary are among the 30,000 students who have returned to their schools. Filmed between January and August of this year, the teens discuss loss, depression, inspiration and redemption in their own words, diary-style.

Shantia is an honor student. Home for her is a FEMA trailer. She desperately wants to leave for college to escape her hometown that she feels no longer offers opportunities for the future. She was accepted to Southeastern Louisiana University in February, but it’s unclear how her family’s financial challenges will affect that dream.
Deshawn, a teen activist, is determined to develop a youth recreation program to keep himself and other kids safe and out of trouble. A talented dancer and singer, Deshawn speaks to his camera about his feelings when, in late May, a 17-year old neighbor became the 74th person killed in New Orleans this year. Since Katrina, New Orleans has garnered headlines just as much for violent crime, as it has for its stalled recovery.

“We’re like the ‘lost city,’” Brandon says. “Really, to me, New Orleans feels like an island to the United States … it’s like they don’t really care.”

The storm and its aftermath have focused Brandon on personal responsibility. Brandon is a teen father. He and his live-in girlfriend had a child in July. Prior to the storm, he admits, he was, at times, in trouble. But now, with two children and faced with tremendous challenges, his optimism is engaging. Brandon graduates from high school and plans to begin college in the fall to fulfill his goal of becoming a band director.

Amanda, also an honor student, worries about her grandmother’s health and how they will survive on her grandmother’s minimum-wage earnings. Amanda reveals that after her story first appeared on CNN in March, she received generous assistance from viewers and, during the course of filming, a team of volunteers renovated their home.
“The reason why I wanted to do this is to show that Katrina wasn’t only something that happened a year and a half ago, it still affects us every day,” Amanda says. “From money to friends to family, I want to show the nation that it’s not anything the way it used to be, and it probably never will be.”

Children of the Storm is produced by Michelle Rozsa and edited by Matt Arnold. David Allbritton and Fred Schang were the lead photojournalists for this production. Mark Nelson is the vice president and senior executive producer of CNN Productions.

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