Author Topic: Trouble the Water  (Read 86 times)


  • Guest
Trouble the Water
« on: August 22, 2008, 11:08:50 PM »
<a href="" target="_blank" class="new_win"></a>

It all began on August 28, 2005 for the Roberts family. That was when tape began rolling on Kim Rivers Roberts’ home video of her neighborhood's preparations for the impending hurricane. Many of the folks on their porches and at the corner stores nonchalantly went about their routines, proclaiming they would not be moved by a storm. They'd never evacuated before and Katrina would be no different. Kim's husband, Scott, even repeated reports from the news that New Orleans might only get a mild beating from the storm since the brunt appeared to be heading to Mississippi. Nonetheless, in a press conference, Mayor Ray Nagin encouraged those who could get out to do so. Kim runs around the neighborhood like a kid in a candy store, stoked to be getting these funny and honest insights from her friends and relatives. It was her first film, shot on a Hi-8 camera she had just bought from a friend a few days earlier for twenty bucks. The shocking images she would capture during Hurricane Katrina laid the foundation for the moving portrayal of her family's survival, Trouble the Water.

The Sundance Grand Jury prize winning film, directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, will play at the Imagenation Theater in New York City's Harlem beginning this week. Lessin, no stranger to social justice issues and controversial material, (she is a frequent Michael Moore collaborator and directed a doc on sweatshop labor), was also one of the honorees for Artistic Achievement at this year's Black Lily Film and Music Festival in Philadelphia. Like much of the film's circumstances, the meeting between the would-be helmers of the project and the Roberts was accidental. While in Central Louisiana to film a documentary about the returning National Guard soldiers from Iraq, home for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, Deal and Lessin met Kim and Scott on the street trying to rally interest in their home video. From there, they collaborated in a way that blended Kim's up-to-the-minute accounts with their present-day view of the Lower Ninth Ward. Trouble the Water plays like a narrative conceived by Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg. The elements of an action-packed, yet heartwarming family tale are all in place, only there is no script required. The documentary cuts back and forth through time from the Roberts retracing the ruins they once called home to the dramatic unfolding of events as Katrina pounded New Orleans almost three years ago. The structure allows you to witness the ironies of human nature, switching from heartbreaking and hilarious, shameful and heroic, all in a span of five minutes. In one sequence, Scott recalls members of his community in shambles, dragging themselves 10 blocks to the nearby Naval Base to seek shelter after the worst of Katrina passed through town. Moments later, the group was stopped at the gate as 20 troops armed with M-16s greeted them as a disturbance. A Black Naval officer commented that their duty was to protect the government's interests, excusing the abandonment of the group of haggard men, women and children.

The stories of outrage are innumerable. The call to 9-1-1 alone is enough to make you want to march on Washington again. Of all the bad news one can have delivered to them, imagine telling an emergency operator you're drowning in your attic and her response being silence. This person, your only resource to help, on rote reads from a script that no longer serves any purpose, tells you that no rescue team will be sent. Yet Trouble the Water is not a list of grievances put to film. It is a heroic epic showing you what the human spirit can do when put to the test. When it was time to put all the ideals of kindness, community and selflessness into action, Kim and Scott Roberts, along with other relatives and strangers, answered the call. One of the most inspiring sequences of the film is seeing Larry Simms, a friend of the family, float into the flooded house (I won't dare spoil it and tell you how he gets in) to rescue his sister and her family, two by two, like Noah of the ghetto. The ease in which they called to each other, organized a plan and got down to business is hard to watch if you imagine yourself in their shoes. That's what is so striking about the film – it is documenting everyday people, your little cousin playing outside, your aunt sitting on the porch, your uncle drunk on the corner. Politicians and prominent community figures play no role in this tale of Katrina. Rather, it’s the forgotten people like The Roberts and their associates, ignored long before the storm hit the Lower Ninth Ward where the ravages of drugs, crime and poverty struck long ago with no relief in sight. Scott Roberts even mused that he didn't expect the neighborhood to look all that different post-Katrina than it did before. These regular folks, drug dealers, rehabbers and high school dropouts drove 30 people out of New Orleans like a modern-day Underground Railroad and set up shop at Kim's uncle's property in Alexandria.

Kim, an aspiring emcee, gave her demo to a cousin in Tennessee before Katrina hit. After the storm, it was all she had left of her music career. Her song, "Amazing," features her rhyming over The Roots "You Got Me" about her struggles. The song documents a difficult home life and the woman standing tall on the other side of it with no hint that such strength would be preparing her for one of the worst natural disasters and bureaucratic blunders the world has ever seen. Prescient moments like these, along with Kim's various predictions as to the outcome of the hurricane long before anyone could foresee how bad it would really get, are eerie as they occur throughout the film. As you watch a community fall apart and emerge from the rubble, you're also watching the most important tool they could have. Not just faith and love, but technology. There are Katrinas happening everyday, if not in the form of massive waters, then widespread famine and disease, armies of neglected humans who have nowhere to go for comfort. But we can't see them, so their stories are automatically less important. The key to any community's survival is its ability to speak for itself. Kim said on camera several times that the world would see what they were going through. Without that camera, Kim and her family are just victims. With it, they are liberators. Catch Trouble the Water while you can with the Imagenation Theater in Harlem (click here to buy tix!) and at the IFC Center in downtown Manhattan. The film opens Friday, August 22nd, and everyone in the NYC area should definitely check it out!