Trouble the Water (2008)
Trouble The Water(USA) (DOC) Directed by Tia Lessin; Carl Deal
Though Spike Lee’s more comprehensive and broader-scoped When the Levees Broke remains to date the definitive work on the subject, Trouble the Water found its way onto a number of best film lists for 2008 and was nominated for an academy award. Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, who’d worked for Michael Moore in the past, were in New Orleans to shoot a documentary on National Guardsmen returning to their home state, Louisiana. While scouting near the Superdome they happened to run into aspiring rapper Kimberly Rivers Roberts (aka Black Cold Medina) and her husband Scott, lower ninth ward residents who had been stuck in the flood. Kimberly had purchased a video camera on the street two weeks previous and managed to shoot footage of the flood as it was happening. Deal and Lessin watched the footage and decided to change the direction of their film, deciding to concentrate on Kim and Scott and their experiences. The film is effective mostly because of the visceral effect of the footage and the humanity of Kim and Scott and their family and neighbors. The human face on such a large tragedy allows us to become personally invested in seeing how it all turns out for them and theirs. While the footage of the flood itself is of poor technical quality, the visuals still do an extraordinary job of demonstrating what some of these people actually went through. The overall film, as constructed by Deal and Lessin, is at its best when following Scott, Kim, and the rest, although for some reason it jumps all over the place, making the time line of events shaky at best. There is good information to be gleaned - 911 calls; local news reports; interviews from the bumbling Mike Brown from FEMA and mayor Ray Nagin. From Kim’s footage, we see individual acts of bravery, generosity, and kindness from some who are directly impacted, but the lack of resources, disenfranchisement, and abandonment on display is pretty shocking. There is also a telling sequence where Scott talks about going to a mostly abandoned military base with a crowd of desperate, now homeless citizens and being turned away and even threatened by the men stationed there. Scott and Kimberly Roberts are far from saints - they breed pit bulls, have each had troubled pasts that include drug dealing, and Scott bears an ugly scar on his face that is evidently the result of Kimberly cutting him, but they are representative of a poverty stricken section of people who were simply forgotten about during this tragedy. The soundtrack includes gospel music and some rap from Kimberly (The Roberts’ company is called Born Hustler Records). There are questions about how ethical it is that Kim is given no formal credit on the film, but the relationship between subject and doc filmmaker often constitutes a less than holy melding of agendas. Regardless, Trouble the Water is a documentary worth seeing. It is not yet available on DVD, but can be seen on The Independent Film Channel.