At Glenda Martes’s 43rd birthday celebration last summer, party favors mix with evidence of transience: there’s a plastic tiara, balloons and silly string; generic hotel photos on the walls, a wall of Goya food cans on the dresser. There are friends who met as refugees in a Bronx hotel, and a Facetime call from a relative still at home, in Puerto Rico. “Let me make a wish,” Glenda says as she prepares to blow out the candles, but a child cuts in first: “I wish to have an apartment!”
After Maria, a new documentary short on Netflix, balances these simple scenes of love and loss in its small-scale look at the daily instability following a massive disaster – in this case, of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island of Puerto Rico in September 2017. The film, directed by Nadia Hallgren and produced by Lauren Cioffi, quietly portrays the daily toll of destabilization after the nation’s second-deadliest hurricane decimated the island’s infrastructure, specifically for the more than 300,000 islanders who fled to mainland America. Most specifically, for those who fled to Fema-assisted housing in Hallgren’s hometown, the Bronx.
Minutes - Maria - Fabric - Tragedy - Condescension
In a tight 37 minutes, After Maria acknowledges the larger fabric of the tragedy – condescension from the Trump administration, indifference from federal aid agencies, the indignity of a death toll thousands higher than officially acknowledged – while hewing closely to the ground, seeing the disaster and its slow, paralyzing aftermath through the eyes of those buffeted by the storm. As day-by-day cinéma vérité, it’s less dispiriting than straight up, a portrait of clammy, constant anxiety peppered with daily joy, welfare calls with birthday parties.
Part of that balance, Hallgren says, comes from seeing the Maria refugees as the latest chapter in a long history of Puerto Rican migration. “This is not the first wave of...
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