Private Project

The Village That Once Was

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a seamstress and a community organizer from the Lower Ninth Ward embark on a fifteen year-long odyssey to return home that's obstructed by broken promises, racism, and indifference.

  • Tyrrell Shaffner
  • Tyrrell Shaffner
  • Tyrrell Shaffner
  • Chris Hilleke
    Director of Photography
  • David Marquez
    Director of Photography
  • Derek Nakamoto
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Student
  • Genres:
    Social Justice, Historical
  • Runtime:
    31 minutes 24 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 1, 2022
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    HD and SD
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - UCLA
  • Highland Park Independent Film Festival
    Los Angeles
    United States
    October 2, 2021
    Sneak Peek Preview
    Honorable Mention, Best Documentary
  • Sidewalk Film Festival
Director Biography - Tyrrell Shaffner

Tyrrell Shaffner moved around a lot as a child, living in Nebraska, Northern California, England, Virginia, and Washington State. The perpetual new kid at school, she has never forgotten the feeling of being on the outside looking in. In her work, Tyrrell explores the humor, pain, and beauty of the outsiders, misfits, and outlaws.

Tyrrell moved to Los Angeles to attend USC's prestigious Film Production Program. Her senior year, Tyrrell was awarded a thesis film. The result, "Different," won the Rhode Island International Film Festival Grand Prize for Student Film, played at festivals around the globe, and was called a "great, little subversive film" by one of her heroes, Director Michael Lehmann ("Heathers".) Tyrrell then directed and/or wrote over 20 short films for Academy Award-winning Producer Rob Fried and his digital media channel, Feeln. Tyrrell has since worked as a producer, director and/or writer on over 100+ shorts, documentaries, webisodes, and commercials for companies like Hallmark, Google, Mssng Peces, Alpine Labs, Crypt TV and Lionsgate. Tyrrell is a member of the PGA New Media Council and the Alliance of Women Directors.

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Director Statement

"The Village That Once Was" began 15 years ago, when I watched the harrowing news coverage of Hurricane Katrina from afar in Los Angeles. Soon after, I spent the Christmas holiday of 2005 in Treme in New Orleans, helping a relative fix up her storm ravaged home. One day we veered off the road and drove around the Lower Ninth Ward: the devastation was unlike anything I had ever seen, outside of history books.

A stubborn and protective love for New Orleans was born, and it brought me back to the city again in 2008, a markedly different time, just as Barack Obama was becoming president. During a city wide art festival called Prospect One, I met a charismatic community organizer named Mack “Ward” McClendon at his community center in the Lower Ninth Ward. Mack took me on a driving tour of the Lower Ninth that day, and despite the fact that the storm had happened over 3 years ago, his neighborhood looked like Katrina had just hit. He told me about a program he was starting to bring back his absent neighbors, called “Where’s Your Neighbor,” and about his pilot case, a spunky seamstress named Letitia Youngblood. Mack asked me to make a short film about her joyful return. I jumped at the chance and returned shortly thereafter with a small crew, but Letitia’s return would not be as easy as Mack had hoped. (Dashed hopes would become one of the main themes of the film.) I also quickly learned that both Mack and Letitia’s stories could not be wrapped up into a neat and tight short film.

Though they both faced seemingly insurmountable—and often institutional obstacles—to return home, neither Letitia nor Mack would give up. I came back periodically to check in on their progress. The film charts their over decade-long journey, using formats of the time, from DV home video footage to rich HD, and highlights changing attitudes about climate change and Black Lives Matter. Now, events like Katrina are happening everywhere. Even in Los Angeles, it’s easy to imagine climate change driven monster weather like forest fires destroying my home (something that was unthinkable to me fifteen years ago.)

Although Mack and Letitia’s journeys are epic and historical, their human desire for love, comfort and familiarity is universal. As America and the world faces new challenges in the 21st century, I hope Mack and Letitia’s bravery in the face of tragedy and undeniable grit inspire. My intention with this film is to study the response to Hurricane Katrina—by the media, the government, and the people—and to show the hard lessons it holds for those who hope to rebuild in the aftermath of disaster, and the years that follow.