The most accurately profound observation in the trailer above for Trouble The Water -- the award winning documentary about Hurricane Katrina -- is the statement that the disaster that happened this time four years ago, "is not about a hurricane. It's about America." The movie screens for free in LA at 8pm this evening (Monday 8/24) as the launch of the new series -- Amoeba's Monday Movies @ Space15Twenty. Amoeba will be selling the DVD at the screening tonight, though it is not due in stores till Aug 25! Click here for more info on the screening. It is an important film; as the last subject in the trailer from the film points out, "Katrina is still going on" in this country's treatment of its poor and underprivaleged.
In the four years since Katrina there have been many portrayals of the this American tragedy both produced for the screen and published as the written word, including Spike Lee's wonderful HBO documentary When The Levees Broke (also available on DVD at Amoeba). But most of the stories told relied on photos or film footage recorded either after the fact or from afar -- including the numerous aerial shots of the devastating hurricane's aftermath. In contrast, Trouble The Water offers footage shot from the inside, from the ground (or water, to be speciific) by two victims of Katrina: the husband and wife team Scott and Kimberly Roberts of New Orleans' Ninth Ward district, who captured their amazing survival tale on video.
A 2008 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this unique film offers a gripping inside, first hand look at Hurricane Katrina, right from the day before the storm made its landfall, before the media had given it much attention, and through the days that followed, when most of us were seeing those shocking aerial images of the devastation on CNN and other TV channels.
The early inside Katrina footage in Trouble the Water was all shot on a Hi-8 video camera by 24-year-old Kimberly Roberts, who, without thinking at the time that she was contributing to such a powerful documentary, just let the camera record herself, her husband Scott, and their Ninth Ward neighbors who were stranded along with them in New Orleans. The film, which the LA Times hailed as "A story of community resiliance in the face of government indifference," puts a very personal face on a shameful national tragedy that, while the rest of the country might have moved on and forgotten, is still being felt in New Orleans and other areas most directly affected by the disaster.
The raw Hi-8 video footage captured by Kimberly is only part of Trouble the Water. Its chilling documentation is what opens the film, directed & produced by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, who were also the producers of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. The majority of Trouble the Water follows the bureaucratic headaches that Kimberly and her husband endured in the grueling two-years after the actual hurricane. While it is depressing in many parts, overall it is an uplifting film; one that shows how the human spirit can survive when cast into such a horrible situation. This couple is symbolic of the thousands of others in their same position. And since Kimberly is an aspiring rapper, the film is also about music. I caught up with the filmmakers via email to ask them some questions about Trouble the Water. Here's what they had to share.
Amoeblog: Did the idea for the film based on Kim and Scott's first person account happen instantly upon Carl meeting the N.O. residents with the Hi-8 cam, or soon after? How did the process of the final film develop?
Carl Deal and Tia Lessin: We began this film by documenting the return of Louisiana National Guard
soldiers from Baghdad to nearby Fort Polk in Katrina's aftermath. We wondered what they would encounter, going from one war zone to what looked like another in their own hometowns. That storyline became secondary after we spent some time on the ground. Our vision for the film changed organically as the story unfolded in real time; we always tried to be mindful of what was happening around us in the field, and to be impacted by what was going on in the moment, not just what was in our heads.
The heart of any good story, fiction or nonfiction, is strong characters. We instantly saw that Kimberly and Scott were full of optimism and on a mission to transform their lives in a time of crisis. They were courageous in the way they exposed themselves to us. Kimberly entrusted her home video to us and 15 minutes of that footage, shot at ground zero the day before and the day the levees broke, anchors the film.
But for a time, Trouble the Water was going to be more of a gumbo. We shot over 160 hours of footage over two years-- interviewed the "experts," followed several soldiers and several other Katrina survivors, and screened 100 more hours of archival material. And while all that certainly informed the story we told, the deeper we got into the edit, the more we felt compelled to keep it intimate, keep it personal and focus on the journey of Kimberly and Scott.
That said, until the edit, we didn't have a beginning, middle and end to the story because life doesn't unfold that way. We had to craft that. Our editors, Woody Richman and Mary Lampson, were critical in helping us to do that, and helping us to distill so much into one story -- the abandonment of the city's poorest, the incarcerated, and the hospitalized to Katrina's floodwaters, and the government's failures well before, during and after the storm.
Amoeblog: The lasting message of this film seems to be: "This is not about a hurricane. It's about America." Do you think that America has learned anything in the years since Katrina or are we in the same tragic position of lacking compassion for our lesser off citizens?
Carl Deal and Tia Lessin: There's no lack of compassion on the part of the American public for people
who have been failed by the system, and especially for Katrina survivors. Tens of thousands of Americans have opened their homes, their wallets, their hearts. they have traveled to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild churches and schools and neighborhoods and they have written their representatives demanding action. What is lacking is not compassion. It's political leadership and resources that are lacking.
We don't believe that there are "lesser citizens." There are communities of people who are impacted disproportionately by pollution, poverty and failing infrastructure. It's important to remember that the government failures in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast began long before the levees broke. We recently learned that the high school we had filmed in during the aftermath of Katrina -- the high school that Kimberly and Scott attended -- has the worst academic record in the state. It's been part of the city's "Recovery School District" since 1991; but its "recovery" is not from Katrina, but from white flight and decades of underfunding and neglect. That speaks volumes.
We receive e-mails every week from survivors who share their stories, and their responses to the film, and [they] ask us to make sure it is seen and that people don't forget what happened along the Gulf Coast in 2005. We take that very seriously and have built partnerships with organizations working for racial and economic justice in the region and throughout the country that are finding ways to use this film to support their work in turning compassion into political change.