The Axe in the Attic fails in a number of ways, but not in any manner that the filmmakers didn't account for or expect. The first collaboration between filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small sometimes looks like a parody of self-involvement. While documenting the post-Katrina diaspora, Pincus and Small reveal all the needling liberal anxieties that attend their project. From the beginning, they set out with the belief that there's no honest way to tell the story without such transparency. The conviction leads to some far from mundane revelations. Interviewing drunken and hostile refugees housed in an Alabama state park, the pair shows how quickly empathy can curdle to fear. Arguing over whether to give money to potential interviewees—many of whom are desperately in need—they’re forced to confront some of the stickiest issues confronting the practice of documentary and journalism. Having finally relented and given money to one man, they find themselves inundated by prospective "subjects" seeking the same treatment, perfectly willing to perform their victimhood for pay.
The film winds up exploring not only the toll taken on direct victims of catastrophe, but also the psychic toll exacted on the country at large. Small, contemplating the ways she's been affected by her pursuit, contrasts her ability to stay objective in the face of suffering with that of her partner: "For him the camera observes, for me it absorbs." This turns out to be a misconception. Surveying the damage and the damaged, the camera absorbs for him as well, and for us all.
Here, Lucia Small films Ed Pincus as their subjects reveal deep misgivings about interloping filmmakers.