Zeitgeist Films // 2008 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // July 22nd, 2009
I ain't 'fraid of no water.
Louisiana has always been one of my favorite places to visit. Some of my finest memories (none of them appropriate for this site) come from New Orleans, Breaux Bridge, and Lafayette. The people, the food, the atmosphere make the place special, unlike anywhere else in the country. While I haven't been there in years, I was as saddened as anybody at the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated not only that city, but the entire gulf coast, leaving thousands dead and many more homeless. As a country, we were grossly under prepared for, as it turned out, a near-inevitable disaster. On my end, as the hurricane approached and as the media reported on its impending landfall, I thought there was zero chance of the levees failing. I can chalk this up to my own blindness or to misrepresentation by the government and the media about their stability, but our response to this mass of death and sorrow was abhorrent, to say the least. Three years later, parts of the city remain in shambles, while the tourist industry was ready to go for Mardis Gras; this can be nothing less than willful negligence on the part of the US government and its extensions, including FEMA, charged with lending aid to these unfortunate people.
Trouble the Water, the Academy Award nominated documentary by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal (Fahrenheit 9/11), charts this course over the two years between the hurricane and the film's release. The info is nothing new and, based solely on the duo's footage, this would have been an unremarkable piece. The film, however, is an astounding document of the human spirit because of the film's subject: a 24-year old aspiring rap artist from the Lower 9th Ward named Kimberly Roberts. With incredible foresight, she grabbed her Hi-8 camera and her husband, Scott, and started recording. First, she's simply asking people how they feel about the storm. Soon, however, the hurricane hits and she's in her attic filming surfable waves that have replaced her neighborhood street. Even after they are rescued by an angel with a heavy bag, their ordeal is far from over, and it's all lain bare in front of us. This harrowing experience is only eclipsed by incredible strength of spirit of these survivors, not just Kimberly and Scott, but they man who saved them and the people they saved as well. Their stories make this film quite special. Not only have I never seen such close, personal footage of a natural disaster -- not even close -- it is rare to see such a raw example of the goodness inherent in humanity. Under this kind of duress, enemies become friends and friends become family.
Lessin and Deal incorporate their stock footage with Roberts's story, from the time of the hurricane through the aftermath for two years as she and her husband struggle to get their lives back. Expecting to find a government willing to help them do so, they encounter nothing but resistance in getting any part of the funding promised to them. Kimberly and Scott represent many victims who rightfully expected that which was offered to them, but were left hanging for months, years, and in some cases, still wait.
Zeitgeist's DVD release of Trouble the Water is consistent with other work from the label. The film mixes footage from many sources, so the image transfer is all over the map, though it's as good as it can be. Sound is equally spotty, but there is again nothing to be done from this hodgepodge of sources. For extras, we have a few deleted and extended scenes that add a little, but are not necessary. Interviews with those involved with the film and a clip of a showing of the film at the 2008 Democratic National Convention round us out.
Trouble the Water is an excellent document of the power that people have to help themselves and others survive under the most terrible of circumstances. Through what Kimberly Roberts put together in her harrowing journey through the worst natural disaster ever to hit this country, we have what will likely remain the best documentary on Katrina made.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site