Ten years ago, this month in history (August 29, 2005 to be exact)… 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.
All of the above films – all feature-length – are available on home video platforms currently, by the way, so add them to your weekend watch-lists if you haven’t already seen them.
A related short film that you can watch right now (or bookmark to watch later) hails from director John Magary and is titled, “The Second Line,” which was a 2008 Sundance Film Festival