Judge Daryl Loomis hates to get his feet wet.
Life as a kid in an American crisis
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, services across the region were down for a shameful length of time, and few people suffered worse than the residents of New Orleans. For months, schools were shut down in the poorest areas of the city and kids had nowhere to turn. In the Central City neighborhood, luckily, the YMCA came to the rescue, opening its doors for all children who showed up to attend an impromptu school and get off the streets. For this, Elizabeth Woods and Gabriel Nussbaum arrived as young filmmakers from New York with an art program and a project. They gave each student in the class a video camera and asked them to film literally anything they wanted. Three hundred hours of footage became Wade in the Water, Children, a testament to the spirit of children who had to sacrifice nearly everything in the face of the crisis.
None of these students had experience with a camera before this project started, but each of them had a voice. Too often, the viewpoints of young people go unnoticed, and it's valuable to sit down and listen to them. They may not be the savviest, most worldly people, but they speak their minds with an honesty and candor that adults seldom do. Certainly, with three hundred hours of footage whittled down to a seventy-five minute film (with maybe fifteen minutes of that devoted to establishment shot by the directors and stock footage) means that much of the more shallow stuff got cut away. That's what a good editor does, though, and they put the footage together to create a slice-of-life portrait of kids whose lives have been torn apart by forces outside of their control.
Their spirit and resiliency in the face of it is admirable, but it's certainly not all sunshine for these kids. They have all been stricken by poverty, and the loss of loved ones. They're affected deeply by it, but what's stunning is how little they appear truly traumatized. How much of this was left in the editing room, there's no way to know, but the attitude presented is one of frustration with what has happened and the desire to move on, not of ennui or outright anger. Overall, Wade in the Water, Children is a solid document, if not a great one, and there is more than enough of value to warrant an easy recommendation.
The DVD for Wade in the Water, Children is technically rough, but it has plenty of valuable supplements and is a good overall package. Woods and Nussbaum don't try to clean up their students' footage, so the results of the image and sound are understandably choppy. Some of the kids show a little bit of style, but some are much too entranced by the night vision setting on the camera and most just don't really know what they're doing. How it looks is hardly the point, though, the content is the thing. The stereo sound is as mixed as the image, but it's always clear enough. My only complaint about the presentation is the subtitling, which is embedded on the image and is ultimately unnecessary. They aren't that hard to understand, and it's a somewhat demeaning to say they're too unintelligible to watch without help.
The extras make up only twenty-five minutes of bonus footage, but it's all good stuff. They feature an extended version of the impromptu medley, titled "F*k Katrina," that is incredibly fun, and a television interview with the directors and a couple of the students that sheds more light on the project as a whole. The prime extra footage, though, is in the premier of the film at the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival, which the students not only attended, but had the chance to speak in front of the festival crowd, answering questions like directors, and showing their continued humility in the face of this success. Finally, the directors reconvene with the kids for a high school graduation ceremony. Only one didn't make it through and, while they never claim that their program was responsible for the students finishing, they are clearly proud of what little they may have done to help.
Sometimes shallow, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes hilarious; Wade in the Water, Children is a short but good look at the student voice, a voice that clearly needs to be heard more.
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