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DVD Review: Trouble the Water

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Four years after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, another documentary about the disaster comes to DVD. It's not the first and it most assuredly won't be the last, but there's a verve and vitality to Trouble the Water that ensures it'll stand tall among its peers for years to come.

Motivated no doubt by a healthy dose of liberal guilt, directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (producers for Fahrenheit 9/11) traveled to New Orleans shortly after the flood waters had partially subsided to make a documentary about Katrina and the widespread government failings involved. On their trip, they came across Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott, and that's where they found the makings of a truly compelling tale.

Kimberly, an aspiring rapper, broke out her camcorder a few days before the storm was set to make landfall, filming residents of her Ninth Ward neighborhood, most with no ability to follow the mandatory evacuation orders. Kim and Scott didn't have the resources to leave either, so they holed up in their house and kept the camera rolling.

The resulting footage is crude, shaky and amateur, but that only makes it all the more gripping as the storm rages and the nearby levee breaks, leading to a massive influx of water into the neighborhood street, the top of a stop sign barely visible above the floodwaters. This is Katrina up close and personal, and Deal and Lessin make good use of the footage as the first 40 minutes almost exclusively features Kim's recordings.

Several weeks later, an effervescently optimistic Kim and Scott lead the filmmakers on a recreation of their post-storm journey, meeting up with a rotating cast of characters as they visit various family members and trying to make their way to somewhere livable. They have trouble getting their FEMA assistance, and some of their friends can't get it at all, but it's surprising how peaceful they seem throughout it all. Their frustrations with the government shine through loud and clear, but it becomes clear Kim and Scott see the disaster, in part, as an opportunity to make new lives for themselves.

Trouble the Water seriously runs out of steam in its final 30 minutes, and resorts to repetitive interviews, but it's got a lot going for it on the strength of its first two acts. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at Sundance and an Academy Award nominee for best documentary, Trouble the Water finds a strong angle to approach the disaster, and comes out a winner for the most part.

The DVD includes several extended scenes from the film, Q&A sessions after the film's screening at the 2008 New Orleans premiere and the Roger Ebert Film Festival, a short clip of Kim talking with New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and the theatrical trailer.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • Anton

    A movie that brought me to realize that the only way to challenge the arrogance of those who ignore their own citizens is to act on the anger I felt. I am going to do my own small thing to make this world a little better for those without a voice. Hating the poor is the symptom on a very sick country. Jesus would be ashamed.