Trouble the Water

Trouble the Water featured image

reviewed by Marc Glassman

Trouble the Water. A feature documentary produced and directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. Starring: Kimberly and Scott Roberts.

Though Hurricane Katrina has spawned its own cataclysmic media frenzy, only a fraction of the films, books, articles, photos or websites on the tragedy can match the power of Trouble the Water. The documentary benefits greatly from having an astonishingly charismatic lead, Kimberly Roberts, a feisty 24-year-old African-American whose garrulous commentary animates the film.

It’s Kim who shoots video of her 9th Ward New Orleans neighbourhood as the skies darken and Katrina’s fury is unleashed. Accompanied by her husband, a streetwise hustler named Sam, the duo turn into heroes, helping to save others as the hurricane’s devastation is felt throughout the community.

Exciting as that footage is, the film doesn’t truly find its voice and momentum until Kim and Sam are rescued and meet the filmmaking duo of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. Doc veterans who worked with Michael Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, Lessin and Deal had the wit and nerve to come to New Orleans while the full force of Katrina was taking place. They immediately realized that Kim’s story would offer a unique view into the Katrina calamity.

The film follows Kim and Sam as they travel to Memphis in the wake of the storm and then sojourn back to New Orleans when the crisis finally abates. The footage of their neighbourhood post-Katrina is understandably intense and shocking. It leads up to Ms. Roberts finding a victim of Katrina — her uncle.

Despite the inherently tragic nature of the doc, Trouble the Water is surprisingly upbeat. That’s partially due to Kim Roberts, a gifted singer — she’s also a rap artist called Black Kold Madina — and supremely tough individual whose presence can be felt in every frame of the film. It’s not only that, though; what’s truly fascinating is watching how each member of Kim Roberts’ extended family of cousins, husband and neighbours survives.

Though there’s a feeling throughout the film that the government has failed to provide for them, the community of African-Americans living in New Orleans quickly learns to cope with a diminished quality of life. Like Kim Roberts, they will survive and endure — and the doc incisively describes that will to live.

Trouble the Water won the Best Doc Award at the 2008 Sundance film and is deservedly nominated for this year’s feature documentary Oscar. The film is at the Royal all week; it’s well worth the view.

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