“I’m showing the world that we had a world before the storm,” says Kimberly Rivers Roberts, a.k.a. Black Kold Madina, on August 28, 2005, the day preceding Hurricane Katrina’s devastating touch down in New Orleans. Kimberly is poor, black, and, unlike the majority of the city’s wealthier white citizens, unable to “afford the luxury” of transportation that could take her out of what will prove to be a very vulnerable Dodge. Armed with a newly purchased camcorder, she records and narrates her preparations for the storm as well as the ongoing life of her Ninth Ward community, including neighbors’ defying boasts in the face of reports warning residents to evacuate their homes due to the impending category-five hurricane.
Thus ominously, heartbreakingly begins Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s Trouble the Water, a documentary structured around Kimberly’s incredible footage and her post-Katrina survival. Unlike Spike Lee’s expansive, macroscopic When the Levees Broke or Lucia Small and Ed Pincus’s self-reflexive The Axe in the Attic, Water captures Katrina and its aftermath as it unfolds through the point of view of a single person, and through that single person the film focuses widely on “the world before the storm” Kimberly not only represents but struggles to keep alive.