The three year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is upon us. The city of New Orleans has by no means been rebuilt, many of the displaced have no homes to return to, but the attention of the nation has moved on. Watching Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's powerful documentary Trouble The Water, I was struck by how easy it is to forget and how very wrong that is.
Kimberly Rivers, aka Black Kold Medina, a remarkable subject
Unlike Spike Lee with his near-epic When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
, the co-directors of Touble the Water
make the wise choice of narrowing their focus, a strategy that breaks down the almost incomprehensible suffering of the thousands of Americans and makes it intensely real.
The film follows Kimberly Rivers, aka Black Kold Medina, a rap artist from the Ninth Ward too poor to leave New Orleans before the storm. Days before Katrina hit, Kim had bought a camcorder and started filming, turning the camera on herself, her husband Scott, the kids in the neighborhood, the drunk guy at the local market. When the levees broke, she kept on filming -- remarkable, hair raising footage captured from the inside of her house as the water begins to rise and the inhabitants break through the ceiling to take shelter in a crawl space beneath the roof.
Kim is definitely a character, with her husky voice and dark sense of humor. She's amazingly candid about her life, the laws she has broken, and her family's problems: a mother who died of AIDS, a brother in jail. She's amazingly kind, as well, helping neighbors and friends and family.
Trouble The Water rarely relies on news footage, but what's included always makes a powerful point - including a taped 911 call by an old woman trapped in her attic who is told that help is not on the way. There are also interviews with members of the National Guard after the storm and U.S. Marines who refused to provide shelter to Ninth Ward residents, brandishing guns to protect government property.
Lessin and Deal integrate Rivers' video with their own, taking over the documentation of Kim's story after they meet, by chance, in a shelter in Baton Rouge. Surviving the storm is only the first part -- what follows is not much easier, a painful exodus from the ruined city, in and out of shelters to long lines at less than helpful FEMA headquarters, a relocation attempt to Memphis, and finally, for this one intrepid couple, a permanent return to New Orleans. Through what seems like sheer strength of character, Kim and Scott are able to forge a hard-earned happy ending for themselves -- and the film.
Trouble The Water (2008)
Directed by: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
Produced by: Danny Glover, Joslyn Barnes, Todd Olson
Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated