Alumnus Paul Catalanotto features documentary at Louisiana International Film Festival and prepares new release

Filmmaker and university graduate Paul Catalanotto featured his documentary “When the Rivers Rise” at the Louisiana International Film Festival. His next film “Sacrilege” will arrive in Redbox on May 2.
Larshell Green/The Lion’s Roar

The 5th Annual Louisiana International Film Festival selected the 58-minute documentary “When the Rivers Rise,” directed by university graduate Paul Catalanotto. 

The film highlighted the Springfield Fire Department’s response to the 2016 Louisiana flood. It incorporated interviews and footage shot from firefighter’s phones. Two full audiences watched the documentary on Apr. 22, at Cinemark Perkins Rowe in Baton Rouge. 

“What I’ll always remember is in the second screening during the Louisiana International Film Festival, the fire department, and I was behind them, walked out in front, answered questions and the entire crowd stood up and gave the fire department a standing ovation for the work that they did during the flood,” said Catalanotto. 




The 2016 flooding caused damages in 20 parishes including at least 13 deaths. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency, federal aid exceeded $127 million. The American Red Cross called it the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy. 

“It was just unbelievable devastation how much water got in places that I’m familiar with, that I have driven across and, you know, these firefighters, they just showed up,” said Catalanotto. “They need their time. They put their lives on the line to help people. That’s what stuck with me. They did an amazing thing and the only thing they were thinking about were other people and how to keep them safe.”

Springfield is a town in Livingston and home to 487 people as of the 2010 census. 

“It’s so easy to do,” said communication professor Dr. Joe Burns. “It was in New Orleans, or it was on Baton Rouge, but you don’t think of Springfield, little Springfield, you know, but that’s where it’s focused. Those are people too, and that’s where they live their lives.” 

An advanced video editing class taught by Burns introduced Catalanotto to filmmaking. 

“You know how you hear some football players say like they just picked up a football and understood it,” said Catalanotto. “I was just able to pick up the software. I understood the film language. All those hours and questions paid off. It was always natural for me when it comes to editing.”

Catalanotto accomplished a series of achievements since graduating from the university in 2002. His documentary “Painting a Normal Life” won Best Documentary at the New Orleans Film Festival. He directed “Proof of the Devil” and received several awards, including an Atlanta Hip Hop award. Upcoming works include “Sacrilege,” a horror film available on Redbox May 2. 

“It was one of those raw talent things,” said Burns. “You can see it. I know I’m sitting here like ‘Oh, let me tell you how wonderful he was,’ No, he really was. He was that good, and he’ll back this story up. He made, I think it was a final, in the video editing class, and the piece was so good and so professional that I really couldn’t pick it apart. So what I did was I gave him a 99 out of 100 and the comment I made was ‘Because nobody’s perfect’ and I gave it back to him and he still to this day brings that up to me. After he shows me something, he’ll say, ‘Well, was that perfect?’ No, 99 out of 100, nobody’s perfect.”

Anyone interested in seeing the film will have to wait. 

“I’m thinking about doing another cut of it, see if I can get it on Louisiana public broadcasting, but I’m also probably going to donate it to the local TV stations so people can see it,” said Catalanotto.