The "Cajun Navy" that swung into action during the recent flooding got a much different reception from those who tried to help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“From my limited observation, the big difference was that in this recent flood event, it was the local governments that stepped to the front of the line, especially the sheriffs' offices,” said Allan Durand, a St. Martinville attorney and filmmaker. “They didn’t wait for federal or state guidance … and after Katrina, who would reasonably expect them to wait for it anyway.”

In 2005, as New Orleans lay roof-deep in water from the Category 3 storm, hundreds of civilians and their boats were turned away by police. Some from the Acadiana area, later dubbed the "Cajun Navy," stayed the course and saved an estimated 10,000 lives.

“This was magnificently unselfish,” said Durand. “Heroic in the traditional sense. And I’m a sucker for heroes and hero stories.”

Now, he's telling of their bravery in "The Cajun Navy," a documentary Durand started in 2012 and only recently finished. The film is making the rounds of film festivals, where Durand hopes it will garner the attention its subjects deserve. The documentary premiered at the Newport Beach International Film Festival and won the Remi award at the Worldfest Houston International Film Festival.

Durand conceived the project after talking with St. Martinville resident Doug Bienvenu, one of the stubborn few who circumvented law enforcement and subsequently rescued 797 people.

“I was so fed up, completely fed up,” said Durand. “A lot went wrong with Katrina, a blame marathon. No one got credit for anything.”

It was Bienvenu’s story that hooked him.

“Even if I just have a Doug, I can do a short (film),” he said. “If there are others like this — and there were — that’s the icing on the cake.”

A filmmaker since 1981, Durand is, perhaps, best-known for his feature-length film with Glen Pitre "Belizaire the Cajun," which was the official 1986 Sundance selection. In it, Durand himself played a priest. He had produced 90-minute documentaries before, among them "Texas Rangers" and "Willie Francis Must Die Again."

“I knew it was work, and I needed help," he said. "So I went to the film department at UL-Lafayette and told them I’d teach a class in advanced documentary filmmaking in exchange for grunt work.”

The student recruits located the interviews for Durand and acted as his research assistants, associate producers, sound technicians and editors.

“Kids in the class found everyone,” he said. “Half of the students were originally from New Orleans.”

A UL-Lafayette graduate himself, Durand credits the entire film to the university.

He says it’s not as though there was an abundance of rescuers to choose from.

“The first weeding out was done by police — they turned back most of them,” said Durand.

What was left were the few dozen that said, "We’re not turning around," and sneaked past the perimeter. Those who pushed their way through took alternative routes, shortcuts and detours and even posed as part of a penitentiary bus convoy.

“Cajuns follow all laws that make sense and none that don’t,” Durand explained.

"Cajun Navy" utilizes stark black-and-white headings to separate segments and move the story forward. Photos of the aftermath were supplied by the documentary subjects themselves, some of whom took cameras with them on their rescue missions with the intent of documenting bodies for identification purposes. Actual aerial and ground footage used in the film was supplied by KLFY TV- 10 and KATC TV- 3.

“They were very generous with their pictures,” said Durand.

Other than the photographs — as visually compelling now as they were then — there are only the words of those who were there: longtime New Orleans anchor Garland Robinette; then-Mayor Ray Nagin's press secretary Sally Foreman; Opelousas resident Frank Angelle, who told his wife he “wanted to go” after seeing the city in distress; and Bryan Smelker, who disguised himself as part of a prison escort.

“We could look off into the distance and see people hanging out of the windows,” Smelker says in the film. “There was no way I was going back to Lafayette.

“Anarchy is the best word I can think of.”

There is no narrator, no one to buffer the images for the viewer.

“Narrators say things people don’t say in interviews. After trimming and moving things around as it evolved, it came together without one,” said Durand, who used Danny Glover to voice over "Willie Francis." “You get a lot of surprises. It came together smoothly, and I went with first-person. It was more evolution than director’s decision.”

Despite Foreman’s unflattering picture of FEMA and Bienvenu’s none-too-stellar portrait of the National Guard, "Cajun Navy" is not a rebuke to state agencies but rather a tribute to the heroism of ordinary lives.

“There are national events that there is no preparation for,” said Durand. “I thought someone needed to say ‘Doug, Bryan — someone give them a hand.’ The people from around here needed to be congratulated.”

While he encountered no inherent problems making the film, Durand regrets his law practice prevented him from having the film ready for Katrina’s 10th anniversary. He also wishes he could have included the rescuer who picked up what appeared to be gang members when no one else would, due to their appearance and the implied possibility of violence.

“One guy had nothing," he said, "but felt he needed to give something in return and offered his shirt.”

Durand has submitted "Cajun Navy" to all 24 film festivals in the 40-minute-or-less category and is awaiting a reply from half of them.

“Oscar nominations come out of the festivals,” explained Durand, who won the 2012 Nicholl Award for Screenwriting from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences for "Willie Francis."

"You just find a really good story," he said, “and get out of the way.”