Dec 1, 2008
“Trouble the Water” is a documentary about the flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Directed by Tia Lessen and Carl Deal, much of the film comes from video footage shot during the flooding by Kimberly Roberts, a 24-year old black woman from the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. Roberts, who like many others from the area had no transportation out of the city, used a video camera she had purchased from a street hustler to record what she and her family experienced. The film intersperses video from other news sources to fill out what Roberts wasn’t able to film.
Roberts captures the neighborhood as the storm approaches and those with the means to evacuate pack up. Roberts’ family climb into their attic hoping to escape the flooding. They were eventually saved only because some heroic young men from the area waded through the chest-deep flood waters on foot, risking their own lives, and ferried them to safety. Others weren’t so lucky – the government certainly didn’t get people out.
The film exposes the irony of the Louisiana National Guard being deployed in Iraq at the time of the disaster. One of Roberts’ friends later tells some National Guardsmen he prays they won’t have to go back to Iraq because they shouldn’t be there – “the war is right here.”
When Roberts and a group of people seek shelter at a vacant military base, they are turned away by soldiers guarding the base with M-16s.
Roberts and some of the people who rescued her were eventually able to get their hands on a truck. The film follows them as they drive past the city’s convention center, unable to help the many people who have no way to get out. Roberts and her friends go to Memphis and receive help from people there to get by for awhile. Through one of Roberts’ friends, we see the difficulty people had in obtaining the financial aid the government promised. One of Roberts’ friends had moved prior to the storm and was denied assistance when he couldn’t prove he was a resident of the area.
The film shows the devastation left after the storm, when Roberts and her family returned home to find everything in their neighborhood completely destroyed, the streets filled with debris and covered in deep mud. But it also gives a sense of the solidarity felt by the people of the area who pulled together to get through it all.
“Trouble the Water” is a powerfully moving firsthand account of what it was like to experience the tragedy of Katrina.