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Student film to feature Coast Guard

Deanne Winslett

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Eight years ago, Hurricane Katrina swept through the South, leaving widespread damage across multiple states. Responding to the chaos was the United States Coast Guard, which led operations to rescue and retrieve people affected by the storm.

Kaitlin Smith, a senior majoring in telecommunication and film, said she has always felt connected to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the Coast Guard. Her family is originally from New Orleans, La., an area that was really impacted by the hurricane. She volunteered during the aftermath alongside her father, a member of the Coast Guard.

“I went down to New Orleans back in August of 2006, and I saw the damage, and it was really heartbreaking for me because I have such a personal connection to the city,” Smith said. “After extensive research throughout the years, and learning the Coast Guard’s response, it finally hit me that this story really needs to be told to the public.”

As part of her independent study project, Smith is producing a documentary film highlighting the Coast Guard’s response to Hurricane Katrina titled “Paratus 14:50.”

“I want to tell the stories of these men and women who honestly risked their lives so that they could save others who lost their own belongings in the storm so that they could save others,” she said. “A lot of the personnel down there did lose their homes. A lot of the personnel stayed and rode out the storm in the facilities so that they could immediately carry out their operations. They weren’t restricted by the government. They did exactly what they had to do at the time being, and that was to save lives. And I think when you have someone with that attitude, someone who’s that brave, I think they need to be recognized.”

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For the project, Smith recruited the help of her friend Hunter Barcroft, a senior majoring in telecommunication and film. Barcroft said he wanted to participate in the documentary because of its depth.

“I realized how big of a story that it really was, and the magnitude of it,” he said. “I had never done anything remotely this big in my life. It’s a once in a lifetime kind of thing.”

The film name is a combination of the Coast Guard motto and the exact time they initially responded to the hurricane. “Paratus” comes from the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus,” meaning “always ready.” The “14:50” in military time is 2:50 p.m., which was when the Coast Guard made its first rescue after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall.

Smith contacted the Coast Guard Hollywood Liaison Office to request access to facilities and personnel. Smith and her team were given complete access to all Coast Guard offices and personnel. When filming begins in May, the “Paratus 14:50” team will travel to various locations across the country filming and interviewing for the project. Some places they will film include Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans, La.; Gulfport, Miss.; Washington, D.C.; Astoria and North Bend; Ore.; Sitka, Ark.; and Clearwater, Fla.

“The locations were chosen because of who I want to interview. In my research throughout the years, I chose the personnel who had the best impact, who did well for the Coast Guard,” Smith said. “We actually chose these commanding officers in charge of those facilities, those air stations during Hurricane Katrina as well as rescue swimmers from around the nation who came down to help out during Katrina, who had significant rescues.”

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Production costs for the student-run film are largely funded by donations. All donations go toward the completion and distribution of the film. Private donations are being accepted, and an account has been established on Indiegogo, an international crowd-funding website for films and other arts.

The film’s production team is set to begin filming “Paratus 14:50” on May 7, with the Coast Guard at the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala. The film is scheduled to be completed by summer 2015, and the team plans to debut the final version on August 29, 2015 – a date that marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the 60th anniversary of Air Station New Orleans and the 100th anniversary of the United States Coast Guard formation.

“We’d like to honor those who were affected by Katrina, those who were lost, those who survived, and those first responders who risked their lives for everything, so that people could be saved,” Smith said.

For more information on the film and to follow its progress, visit the Paratus Film page on Facebook or follow @Paratus_Film on Twitter.

(See also “Film documents struggles after Katrina”)

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Student film to feature Coast Guard