Beads were tossed, clothing was lost, and everyone paid a hearty cost… that is, the head-pounding hangover that followed the next morning. Ahh… Mardi Gras, a celebration best known in the United States down in the soulful south of New Orleans. The famous French Quarter of the city was flooded with natives and tourists alike last Tuesday, for the carnival celebration, showing no sign of the devastating category five Hurricane Katrina that whipped through the city just four years prior. At least that is the facade that is told through these happy go-lucky partiers- New Orleans is fine, the buildings have been rebuilt, and the city is flourishing. A different picture is painted however, in the documentary Trouble the Water, which shows just how ‘fine’ the ninth ward region of New Orleans is doing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Nominated for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, Trouble the Water is the redemptive tale of Kim and Scott Roberts who filmed their horrifying Hurricane Katrina ordeal on their hi 8 camera (the amateur filming does not set well with those prone to motion sickness). The young couple, which at the time did not own a car, had no means of evacuating New Orleans before Katrina ravished the city. The Roberts, were not alone, as many in the working-class and predominately black neighborhood of the ninth ward were left with zero options for leaving, as the city did not provide any public transportation to evacuate, the ninth ward residents were just left to wait. And wait. And wait.
While waiting, the brash and outspoken Kim, 24-years-old, rides around the neighborhood on her bike saying a friendly hello to everyone from the cute kids next door to the drunks hanging around the corner of the liquor store. The neighborhood feels very connected, everyone knows everyone and is in everyone’s business, a certain warmth that makes the neighbors seem to be like one big family, accepting of everyone’s faults and fortunes. It is this very connection that holds this community together throughout the following days as Katrina barrels through their streets with no mercy.
The documentary is beyond powerful, as you are enthralled in the Roberts first hand account of Katrina, moving with them as they pile up their mattresses and head to the attic for higher ground, praying the roof stays attached to their house, praying the water stops rising. The film has a clear message backed behind the Roberts footage, that the Bush Administration, FEMA, and the officials of New Orleans failed miserably in preparation for Katrina and in it’s wake. A familiar story of criticism, Trouble the Water, gives it new depth as it’s more personal told through the Roberts, you see the struggles that hit them, one after the other… bam, bam, bam, you feel their emotion, their spirit, only leaving you left with a gut-wrenching frustration at the maniacal mistakes made.
The Roberts, despite all the adversity they face, refuse to allow Katrina to drown their will to survive. Their will to make tomorrow a better and more meaningful day than the one before is strengthened by the multitude of obstacles that they face. Formally involved with selling drugs and other illegal activity, Kim and Scott use Katrina to redeem their past bad decisions and unearth a new life filled with purpose. Scott begins rebuilding homes in the neighborhood and enjoys contributing to the community while Kim focuses on her hip-hop career, striving to become a famous rapper. One of the most riveting scenes is when Kim stands in front of an open closet, pops in the last remaining copy of her CD, and raps to her song, “Amazing.” Powerful in her delivery and aggressive in her lyrics, you hear all that Kim has experienced and you see in her worn and tired eyes a fire that will just not burn out, no matter how much water comes rushing down.
Trouble the Water amazes its audience by restoring your faith in people and their compassion to care for one another in times of need, while simultaneously crumbling your confidence of those who hold power. Trouble the Water did not walk away with the golden statue, but it is a true winner.