Cathedral graduate experiences magnitude of hurricane

Published 12:23 am Sunday, September 2, 2007

Looking back on it, Cathedral graduate Owen “Chip” Hornstein can see a connection between his last film and his first feelings about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The film, “Death by Heartbreak,” concerns a man who dies of heartbreak after a separation with a girlfriend.

“His heart is literally cracking,” Hornstein said.

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Diagnosed with a terminal illness associated with his condition, the man enters a heartbreak hospice where he meets another girl. But it is too late for the two solitary souls who die lonely and heartbroken.

“But, it is a tragedy with a happy ending,” Hornstein said.

Fortunately the two meet in hell and through their mutual connections escape their sorrows together.

“It’s about broken relationships and how you have to get on with things,” Hornstein said.

The University of New Orleans film student experienced many of those same feelings the days and weeks after Katrina.

One week into his second year at UNO, Hornstein’s future career was put on hold when the school closed down due to the storm.

Adjacent to the spot where the levees broke in New Orleans, the UNO campus was surrounded by whole neighborhoods destroyed by the flood waters. The first floor of Hornstein’s dorm was flooded.

“When it all happened I was completely devastated, heartbroken,” Hornstein said.

“Before (Katrina) the city was a very loud city,’ Hornstein said. “When I returned there was dead silence. It was as if the city had just died.”

When he returned three months later to retrieve the things from his dorm room, Hornstein’s future in film school was put on hold.

“Half of me said I am coming back and the other half said, ‘Do I want to go back?’” Hornstein said.

Afraid that he would never return, Hornstein attended school in Lafayette to take some basic college courses while he determined his next course in his education.

A few months later UNO decided to reopen the campus to students and Hornstein returned to finish his studies.

Unlike the lead character in his film, Hornstein doesn’t believe it is too late for New Orleans and its residents.

Witnessing the current changes to the city, he said he is optimistic.

“There has been this huge change,” Hornstein said. “The change has been slow. But it has gotten tremendously better. People are returning.”

After he graduates, Hornstein hopes to stay in New Orleans and either attend graduate school or try to get a film job in the city.

But whichever route he takes, Hornstein said that he has learned a great deal from the past couple of years.

“Life is about connections,” Hornstein said. “I connected with more friends than ever (after Katrina.) It was the human connection that made it bearable.”