Friday, October 17, 2008

Trouble the Water (Rhoades)

‘Trouble the Water’ Offers No Bridge

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here in Key West, we’re no strangers to hurricanes. But fortunately we have a grotto to protect us. Not so lucky was New Orleans.

Survival: that’s the topic of “Trouble the Water” – a documentary about street people surviving hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

The title “Trouble the Water” is an ironic usage, for the film is as troubled by the fate of the people as by the state of the waters. And moreover it’s a commentary on the US government’s failure in protecting its marginal citizenry.

This Zietgeist release is not a slickly made film, even though directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal were producers for Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Bowling for Columbine.”
I’ve commented in recent film reviews about this YouTube Age where everybody with a camcorder or cell phone can become a filmmaker, claiming his or her Warholian 15 minutes of fame.

That’s the case here, when a wannabe rapper and her streetwise husband foolishly await hurricane Katrina’s arrival in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. What we have are home movies that have been interspersed with newsreel footage by savvy directors who know a politically engaging documentary when they come across one.

Make no mistake about what to expect: This is jerky hand-held footage. And the subjects of this documentary aren’t movie stars, but rather poor people, street corner hustlers, druggies, and other “disposable people.”

However, this obvious amateurism gives the film its sense of you-are-there verité.
Switching on her new video camera to record the approaching storm, Kimberly Rivers Roberts gives us smiling faces, laughter, and excited chatter as her Ninth Ward neighbors brace for the coming storm. Unable to leave, they are storing up food supplies, hunkering down, pulling out umbrellas as it begins to rain. Little realizing the terror and hardships that Mother Nature is about to inflict on their modest homes and their simple unpresupposing lives.

Then things go horribly bad.

Knowing what we know now, armed with hindsight, you’ll find yourself asking: Are these folks crazy, staying behind to risk life and limb in this greatest natural disaster in America’s history? But many of them didn’t see an alternative.

The film focuses on Kimberly Roberts and her husband Scott, their neighbors, local street people, hangers-on, and various lowlifes left behind to face the busted levies and rising floodwaters. For this couple, it was a lark that turned into a life-and-death struggle. For others, it became a testimony of abandonment by an uncaring government.

Yes, the film has a decided point of view. Marchers are seen carrying signs that say, “Stop the Killing of Black People.” And statistics are flashed across the screen, noting that “Most African-Americans Have Not Returned, While Most White Residents Have.”
In the end, this is a heartbreaking story.

The doc has picked up four awards so far, including the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at 2008’s Sundance Film Festival. No small feat.

“Trouble the Water” features an original musical score by Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, as well as the music of Dr. John, Mary Mary, Citizen Cope, John Lee Hooker, TK Soul, the Free Agents Brass Band … and Black Kold Madina.

Black Kold Madina I’m told is the stage name of our videographer cum rapper Kimberly Rivers Roberts. So maybe something good can be salvaged from the devastation of the storm.
[from Solares]

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