By Chris Claro
For comedy aficionados, Harry Shearer’s name was familiar long before “The Simpsons.” Though he broke through as a child actor in the late 50s on “Leave it to Beaver,” it was the 70s and 80s when Shearer started to make an impact on the world of funny. From writing films and albums with Albert Brooks to two stints as a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” to his creation of the indelible Derek Smalls, one third of Spinal Tap, Shearer’s comedy has always both wickedly funny and shrewdly observant.
Now, with 23 seasons as a cast member of “The Simpsons” to his name, Shearer has headed in yet another direction, as a documentarian, with his new film, “The Big Uneasy“, currently On Demand. A study of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Shearer’s film examines the obfuscations of the Army Corps of Engineers in the wake of the levee breaches, and the whistleblowers who tried to stand up for their city.
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Shearer has been a resident of New Orleans since 1997 his love for the city was a primary motivator in making the film. “My wife and I got a house in the French Quarter in 2006. New Orleans is a place that, if you talk its language, it speaks to you in very seductive tones.”
“The Big Uneasy” arose out of Shearer’s impatience with the perception that Katrina was a natural disaster, rather than one that resulted from outdated engineering and bottlenecks of bureaucracy. “I had a long fuse and a short fuse that moved me to make the film,” says Shearer. “The long fuse was that my property wasn’t damaged so I had the good fortune to have the energy and time to pay attention all this stuff. I was blogging about it in the Huffington Post and interviewing local people on my radio show and getting increasingly frustrated with the failure of the national media to pick up on the story.”
“This was one of the two major news stories of the first decade of this century,” says Shearer. “It would be nice if people actually understood what happened. Unfortunately, the national news providers didn’t see that as their job, so a guy from the comedy world had to come in to do the work.”
Shearer’s outrage at the portrayal of his adopted home as a shell of its former self suffuses THE BIG UNEASY with a palpable heartbeat. The film offers a forum both for the investigators who attempt to uncover the misdeeds of the Army Corps of Engineers and the people of New Orleans, who continue to rebuild, almost six years after Katrina hit.
“There’s nobody in town who was untouched by the flood,” Shearer says. “It wasn’t limited to a small part of New Orleans, it was the entire city. You have no idea who’s walking around with this tape running in their head of finding their mom or dad drowned in the attic. That’s just ever-present.”