Review of Trouble the Water directed by Carl Deal and Tina Lessin
Seems like I've been writing a lot about the impact opportunity can have on changing someone's life. Opportunity or the lack of it are at the core of this film.
How this film came to be is due in large part to serendipity, though I didn't learn this until after watching the Q & A session that was included in the extras. More on this in a minute. This film looks at the effects of hurricane Katrina from ground zero as experienced by a group of New Orleans residents who, due to a lack of money and transportation, were forced to ride out the storm. The film is told from their viewpoint and makes use of video shot from their vantage point before, during, and after the hurricane.
It's one thing to hear snippets of the government's mishandling of the aid efforts for the thousands of people who were affected by hurricane Katrina. It's a completely different experience to witness it first hand.
Kimberly and Scott Roberts lived in one of the flooded wards of New Orleans. They were a couple forced to live a life where opportunity didn't exist. They are black and poorly educated. Their only choice for survival was drugs and crime, which only hampered any attempts to improve their situation. So when the order came to evacuate New Orleans they, like many others, were unable to do so. They didn't have the resources.
The extent of the mishandling of how the state and government boggled this disaster is evident in every scene. One scene that stands out concerns a Navy base located ten blocks from where the Roberts' lived. After the hurricane passed, Scott came across a navy officer who told them to head to the navy base to ask for assistance. So Scott gathered up his neighbors and headed off to the navy base. When they got there, however, the guards at the gate saw the group as a threat. The thought that these people were simply looking for shelter and assistance after the worst hurricanee in decades apparently never crossed their minds. They saw the distressed looking crowd as a threat. They were guarding a base that had one building with 250 vacant rooms that could have been used to shelter the survivors. Instead they called in reinforcements who showed up with M16s that were loaded and pointed at the group. Then to add insult to all of this President Bush later presented the guards with navy commendation medals for protecting the navy base from a hostile threat. Are you kidding me?
Now the serendipity part. Kimberly Roberts, knowing that she had to ride out the storm, decided that she would film her experience with the hope of possibly selling the video to a media outlet after the hurricane passed. It was smart thinking on her part. She could have done a better job operating the camera, but I give her credit for continuing to film even at the peak of the storm and even when the lives of herself and others were in serious jeopardy. After the storm, Kimberly and Scott were driving to a shelter (I'm still not clear on where their transportation came from) when they saw a film crew filming by the side of the road. Kimberly, the opportunist that she is, decided to whip out her video tape and offer it to the film crew. That film crew included Carl Deal and Tina Lessin who were there to make a documentary on the after effects of Katrina. When they saw the film that Kimberly had shot, they realized that a better story would be to tell Kimberly's and Scott's story. Add in some professional photography and careful editing and the end result is a compelling look at not just the hurricane and the after effects but a look at the struggles poor, under-educated blacks face on a daily basis.
I hope Kimberly, Scott, and the many other characters portrayed in the film benefit from this documentary. Kimberly displayed a real talent as a rapper. And Scott, when given a job and a little training, showed that he is fully capable of becoming a contributor to society. What this film shows is that our country's focus should be on education and providing opportunities rather than building more prisons and punishing those who have few options.