19 August 2008

'Trouble the Water' Screens in New Orleans, Opens in New York City

"Trouble the Water," an award-winning documentary about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been praised for putting central focus on the experience of people on the ground -- in particular, an aspiring rap artist, Kimberly Roberts, who videotaped the disaster from the perspective of her family and neighbors as the storm ravaged the Ninth Ward.

The movie, which opens in New York City on 22 August, had its New Orleans premiere on Sunday 17 August with support from the Ms. Foundation. The event, attended by several Ms. Foundation grantees, marked the third anniversary of the storm and celebrated the people of the region who helped to make the film and who continue -- three years out -- to seek a just and sustainable recovery. The film will also be shown at the Impact Film Festival, bringing socially-themed documentary and dramatic films to the national conventions of the Democrats in Denver and the Republicans in St. Paul.

Dennis Lim, in an article in the Sunday New York Times, [The Angry Flood and the Stories in Its Wake] explores how the film brought the voice of the grassroots to the fore:

"Trouble the Water," which won the grand jury prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and opens on Friday, is one of the best reviewed of these movies. It is also perhaps the one that most shrewdly navigates a problem that to some extent bedevils all filmmakers who take on this fraught subject: how to reconcile their outsider perspectives with the experiences of those who lived through the hurricane.

When the "Trouble the Water" directors, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, headed to Louisiana in early September 2005, they were planning to document the return of National Guard troops from Iraq and had no intention of filming anyone directly affected by the hurricane. But that changed when Ms. Lessin and Mr. Deal met an African-American couple, Kimberly Roberts and Scott Roberts. Ms. Lessin said she and Mr. Deal, who are white, instinctively recognized that they had found their new subjects in these charismatic former residents of the Ninth Ward.

"All we had been seeing in the media were images of helpless victims or of looters," Ms. Lessin said. "Those were the two archetypes. Kimberly and Scott were neither. They were survivors, and they were putting everything they had into protecting themselves and their community."

As it happens Ms. Roberts, an aspiring rapper and new owner of a secondhand camcorder, had also been taping events as they unfolded. "I wanted to prove to people what was happening," she said. "It was spontaneous."

The decision to give pride of place to Ms. Roberts's raw first-person footage and to grant the Robertses a guiding role in the documentary was both generous and astute, a way for Mr. Deal and Ms. Lessin to avoid telling too much of the story across the divides of race and class.

"Trouble the Water" opens at two theaters in New York City:
IFC Center (starting 22 August)
Imagenation (22 August - 7 September) Online tickets.

For viewing locations outside New York, see the distributor's web site.

View the trailer:

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