Ten years ago, this month in history, August, 2005… America suffered its most destructive natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore in southeast Louisiana on August 29, killing 1800 people, and destroying homes. Hundreds-of-thousands were forced to flee. The federal government’s sluggish response to Katrina only added to the misery. Local and federal officials all faced sharp criticism for their handling of the tragedy. Despite some progress in rebuilding, full recovery continues to be a long hard road, while debate over the disaster goes on…
Since that tragic day, several films (both fiction and non-fiction) have tackled Katrina and its aftermath, with the most prominent being Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” – the 2006 documentary about the devastation of New Orleans, Louisiana, due to the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina; and the sequel, “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise” – the 2010 documentary follow-up that looked at the years after Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans and Gulf Coast region, and also focused on the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and its effect on the men and women who work along the shores of the gulf. Many of the participants in “Levees” were also featured in the sequel.
Also of note is Tia Lessin’s & Carl Deal’s Academy Award-nominated 2008 documentary, “Trouble The Water.” The powerful film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance 2008.
Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina landed, New York filmmakers Lessin and Deal flew to Louisiana to make a film about soldiers returning from Iraq who had become homeless, but the National Guard refused the filmmakers access. Just when they were ready to disband their crew, they ran into Kim and Scott Roberts, streetwise and indomitable NOLA residents, who introduced themselves. Kim had bought a camcorder the day before the hurricane hit and, using it for the first time, she captured the devastation, and its pathetic aftermath, including the selfless rescue of neighbors and the appalling failure of government. The Robertses and their story form the dramatic core of “Trouble the Water.”
There’s also Jonathan Demme’s post-Katrina documentary “I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, The Mad And The Beautiful,” which chronicles community activist Carolyn Parker, who Demme met in 2005 in New Orleans, and followed over the years afterward, as she lead a crusade to rebuild her house, her church, her community, as well as her life and family, after the hurricane’s devastation.
Premiering at SXSW in 2013 selection, was the multi-director feature documentary from Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, Paul Stekler, titled “Getting Back To Abnormal,” which would eventually go on to have its broadcast TV premiere on PBS’ award-winning series POV (Point of View), last summer. The ITVS/Center for New American Media/Midnight Films project mixes fly-on-the-wall verité footage, with interviews, as it charts the next chapter of life in New Orleans. The film gives audiences a look at the state of New Orleans politics and culture over five years after Hurricane Katrina, set against the 2009-2010 local political season, with the election of the first white mayor in a generation, structured around the city’s complicated, persistent race issue. It charts the next chapter for the city of New Orleans, bolstered by a divisive city council race, the destruction of the city’s housing projects and the rise of new neighborhoods like Brad Pitt’s eco-friendly Make It Right experiment in the ravaged Lower Ninth Ward, the awareness series like HBO’s Treme raised, and the stories of individual residents who are working towards rebuilding their lives.
On the fiction side, while director Benh Zeitlin said that he was careful not to tie his feature film debut, “Beasts Of The Southern Wild,” to any real place, time or issue, so as not to spoil its chances of being opened up to wider interpretation, it’s hard to watch the film (which most of you have by now, I’m sure) and not immediately think of Katrina and its aftermath.
By the way, all of the above films are available on home video platforms currently, so add them to your watch-lists if you haven’t already seen them.
Of those scripted projects on this subject that are on the horizon, one of the highest profile on the list is probably Will Smith’s acquisition of the rights to the story of an ex-Marine who orchestrated the rescue of hundreds of his neighbors during Katrina, titled “The American Can.”
Standing at 6-ft-seven and 260 pounds, John Keller, the ex-Marine, lived in a five-story apartment building; and after chasing some looters, emerged as the man in charge of the 244 residents, many of them elderly or handicapped.
For five days, Keller, dubbed the “Can Man,” kept the building, isolated by 11 feet of water, safe from the chaos raging around the city. He also directed the eventual rescue operation from the building’s roof.
On our last report on this, Will Smith was said to be courting Ed Zwick (“The Last Samurai,” “Blood Diamond”) to direct the film, from a script penned by both John Lee Hancock and Adetoro Makinde – a multi-hyphenate (actor, director, writer, producer, casting director, more) who co-produced Dennis Dortch’s feature film debut, “A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy.”
She’s also listed as producer on The American Can.
Announced last year, Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo will team up again for a currently untitled Hurricane Katrina-set love story and murder mystery, for Participant Media.
DuVernay will write, produce, and direct, while Oyelowo will both star and also produce the project, which will mark the third time they’ve worked together as director and actor, following “Middle of Nowhere” and of course “Selma.”
No plot specifics just yet, nor an ETA, but we’re certainly all very curious.
Throughout the month, expect to read/hear about plans the various TV networks and their own individual Katrina remembrances. For example, BET will premiere a new original BET News Special, “Katrina 10 Years Later: Through hell in High Water” that will follow a diverse group of people who survived Katrina and now, 10 years ago.
Hosted by BET News Correspondent Jeff Johnson, and featuring Wendell Pierce, the special premieres on Wednesday, August 26 at 8 PM ET/PT.
The one-hour program will explore the devastating impact of Katrina and its effect on communities, schools and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. Further, it will feature firsthand accounts from survivors such as Robert Greene as he relives the horrifying events of the storm that resulted in the death of his mother and 2-year-old granddaughter. The special will also feature interviews with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Principal Doris Hicks of MLK High School in New Orleans, artists PNC (Partners N Crime) at their recording studio in New Orleans, and B Mike who has used art in New Orleans to transform a neighborhood left dilapidated by the storm and inspired his community.
There are certainly, likely several other films (fiction and non-fiction) that have been made on Katrina – whether on the hurricane itself, or its aftermath, so I’m not suggesting that these are the only ones you should know about, nor are they THE best; consider it just a sample of the most prominent.
And in the last few years, there have been announcements of new projects that haven’t yet been made, so I’m sure there are more Katrina films in our future.
But of those currently available, what are some of your most appreciated Katrina films, whether made for TV, theater, video, the web, etc…?