Hurricane Katrina didn't just wreck 82-year-old Herbert Gettridge's home in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward; it leveled his entire world. The Frontline documentary "The Old Man and the Storm," which premieres on Jan. 6, chronicles Gettridge's defiant, solitary effort to rebuild the house he lost. Director June Cross's telling is heavy-handed, but Gettridge gleams through as a wondrously cantankerous icon of the city's spirit.
Gettridge gets to work just days after the storm, showing up amid the stink and postdiluvian rot, determined to bring his wife, Lydia, out of exile hundreds of miles away. Katrina czars and incredulous reporters come and go (Cross, overnarrating, makes sure we know that she found him first) and most urge him to give up. But he's a fifth-generation New Orleanian, a proud patriarch whose 36 grandkids were all raised nearby, a living rebuke to those who say the Ninth Ward should be left in ruin. His home isn't just where he lives. It's who he is.
Lydia does return, but "The Old Man and the Storm" offers no storybook reunion. The final chapter is bittersweet, more bitter than sweet, and with it, Cross has found a way to tell the story of all New Orleans.