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'Trouble The Water' Captures Katrina On Camcorder

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'Trouble The Water' Captures Katrina On Camcorder

Movies

'Trouble The Water' Captures Katrina On Camcorder

'Trouble The Water' Captures Katrina On Camcorder

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94100777/94105887" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Kimberly Rivers Roberts (left) filmed as Katrina's floodwaters crept from her yard, to her porch, to her living room. "I was praying and shooting, that's what got me through," she says. Above, Kimberly with her husband, Scott, outside their flood-damaged New Orleans home. Zeitgeist Films hide caption

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Kimberly Rivers Roberts (left) filmed as Katrina's floodwaters crept from her yard, to her porch, to her living room. "I was praying and shooting, that's what got me through," she says. Above, Kimberly with her husband, Scott, outside their flood-damaged New Orleans home.

Zeitgeist Films

More On 'Trouble The Water'

Filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin weave camcorder footage in with snippets of TV news coverage and interviews with Ninth Ward residents. Zeitgeist Films hide caption

toggle caption Zeitgeist Films

Filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin weave camcorder footage in with snippets of TV news coverage and interviews with Ninth Ward residents.

Zeitgeist Films

Trouble The Water

  • Director: Carl Deal
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

Unrated

What a moment it must have been for documentary filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal when they first bumped into Kimberly and Scott Roberts in a shelter, in the days after the levees broke, when New Orleans' Ninth Ward — where the Roberts' had lived — was still underwater.

Kimberly Roberts didn't just tell Lessin and Deal what she'd been through. She had the footage. She turned her camcorder on marooned friends, relatives and neighbors, both before Katrina hit and after the levees buckled.

In Trouble the Water, the context that Lessin and Deal provide for her footage is absolutely smashing. Around Kimberly's shaky and ever more harrowing tape, Lessin and Deal weave interviews with other Ninth Ward residents as well as snippets of TV news reports.

Here's the mayor, at a press conference as the storm approaches, expressing no concern that there is no public transportation out of the city — none. Here's the president, shrugging that no one anticipated the breach of the levees, and his FEMA appointee, Michael Brown, looking dazed as he tries to explain the government's response. Here's the chaos and despair at the Superdome.

The filmmakers cut back and forth between Kimberly's camcorder shots during those last days of August and the Roberts' return, two weeks later, to their devastated neighborhood, where they find a decomposing relative and, amid the carcasses of dogs, their own somehow alive and frisky.

The core of Trouble the Water isn't that aftermath; it's the feeling we get of looking through the eyes of someone who's actually there. First, Kimberly traipses around the neighborhood asking people why they've stuck around when the storm is coming; the reason is that they have nowhere to go and no way to get there. Then, when the levees break, she huddles in a neighbor's attic with crying children, with a view of the water rushing through the streets, higher than the stop signs.

She — we — watch people fighting the current to keep from going under while 911 operators tell her there are no rescue teams "at this time." There is simply no one from the government there as the water rises. When a neighbor plunges into the floodwaters to carry — somehow — children and old people out of their collapsing homes, it's hard to keep from crying out with relief.

In the movie's quieter moments, the Robertses ruminate bitterly on the fact that much of the National Guard is in Iraq, and people like them are left high and dry — or maybe I should say low and drowning. Yet they always end with praise for the National Guardsmen who are there, and with thanks to God.

Whatever sparked Kimberly's impulse to document the fate of her neighbors is indeed a kind of miracle. Roberts lost her mother to AIDS when she was 13, lived in the street and sold cocaine.

Then she straightened out and married a former addict — Scott — whose face she once slashed with a razor blade. She's a rapper now, and the song she performs for the camera, "Amazing," is just that — an explicit and profane account of her sordid past capped with an irresistibly upbeat refrain. For someone like her, who has gone from chaos and nihilism to faith, the impulse to document the catastrophe seems especially heroic.

That faith brings her and her husband back to New Orleans, despite continued government neglect as the city pours many of its resources into luring tourists back to the French Quarter. Trouble the Water infuriates, yet it also lifts us up, restores our own faith in the documentary medium.

For no matter how bland the government bureaucratese in the disaster's aftermath, what happened to Kimberly and Scott and her drowned uncle and her grandmother, left to die in the hospital, is right there on the screen — and always in the present tense.

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