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8 Years Ago Today, Katrina Struck. Some Films That Address The Hurricane & Its Aftermath...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 29, 2013 9:24 AM
2 Comments
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Today in history, August 29, 2005... America suffers its most destructive natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore in southeast Louisiana, killing 1800 people, and destroying homes. 100,000s are forced to flee. The sluggish response to Katrina only adds to the misery. Local and federal government officials all faced sharp criticism for their handling of the tragedy. Despite some progress in rebuilding, full recovery continues to be a long hard road, while debate over the disaster goes on...

Since that tragic day, several films (both fiction and non-fiction) have tackled Katrina and its aftermath, with the most prominent being Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts - the 2006 documentary about the devastation of New Orleans, Louisiana, due to the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina; and the sequel, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise - the 2010 documentary follow-up that looks into the years after Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans and Gulf Coast region, and also focuses on the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and its effect on the men and women who work along the shores of the gulf. Many of the participants in Levees were also featured in this documentary.

Also of note was Tia Lessin's & Carl Deal's Academy Award-nominated 2008 documentary, Trouble The Water. The powerful film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance 2008

Their story goes... 2 weeks after Hurricane Katrina landed, New York filmmakers Lessin and Deal flew to Louisiana to make a film about soldiers returning from Iraq who had become homeless, but the National Guard refused the filmmakers access. Just when they were ready to disband their crew, Kim and Scott Roberts, streetwise and indomitable NOLA residents, introduced themselves. Kim had bought a camcorder the day before the hurricane and, using it for the first time, captured the devastation and its pathetic aftermath, including the selfless rescue of neighbors and the appalling failure of government. The Robertses and their story form the dramatic core of Trouble the Water.

There's also Jonathan Demme's post-Katrina documentary I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, The Mad And The Beautiful, which chronicles community activist Carolyn Parker, who Demme met in 2005 in New Orleans, and followed over the years afterward, as she lead a crusade to rebuild her house, her church, her community, as well as her life and family, after the hurricane's devastation.

On the fiction side, while director Benh Zeitlin said that he was careful not to tie his feature film debutBeasts Of The Southern Wildto any real place, time or issue, so as not to spoil its chances of being opened up to wider interpretation, it’s hard to watch the film (which most of have by now, I'm sure) and not immediately think of Katrina and its aftermath.

Of those scripted projects on this subject that are on the horizon, one of the highest profile on the list is probably Will Smith's acquisition of the rights to the story of an ex-Marine who orchestrated the rescue of hundreds of his neighbors during Katrina, titled The American Can.

Standing at 6-ft-seven and 260 pounds, John Keller, the ex-Marine, lived in a five-story apartment building; and after chasing some looters, emerged as the man in charge of the 244 residents, many of them elderly or handicapped.

For five days, Keller, dubbed the "Can Man," kept the building, isolated by 11 feet of water, safe from the chaos raging around the city. He also directed the eventual rescue operation from the building's roof.

On our last report on this, in April, Will Smith was said to be courting Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) to direct the film, from a script penned by both John Lee Hancock and Adetoro Makinde - a multi-hyphenate (actor, director, writer, producer, casting director, more) who co-produced Dennis Dortch's feature film debut, A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy.

She's also listed as producer on The American Can.

There are certainly, likely several other films (fiction and non-fiction) that have been made on Katrina - whether on the hurricane itself, or its aftermath, so I'm not suggesting that these are the best; maybe just a sample of the most prominent.

And in the last few years, there have been announcements of new projects that haven't yet been made, so I'm sure there are more Katrina films in our future.

But of those currently available, what are some of your most appreciated Katrina films, whether made for TV, theater, video, the web, etc...?

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2 Comments

  • Kwesi Davis | August 29, 2013 4:30 PMReply

    There is an animated film, set in the aftermath of Katrina, on YouTube: 'Take Too Long' by Kwesi Davis

  • Donella | August 29, 2013 11:24 AMReply

    I've seen Spike's two docs, Trouble the Waters, and Beasts.

    What made Spike's work the best of all was ton of footage that he shot and that he also stepped back and allowed the vast array citizens of the area, good samaritans, industry professionals, and politicians to speak for themselves of their experience with Katrina. Also that Spike made sure to emphasize that the disaster was man-made, not a random act of God or Mother Nature. With God Willing, Spike tied Katrina to the BP oil spill and to the earthquake in Haiti to re-emphasize the central theme of how poor people are treated during times of crisis. Informative and heartbreaking.

    Reading the Onion's AV Club casual dismissal of Spike's amazing work as "biased" told me quite a lot about the sickness infecting the Onion's leadership and editorial department. Their many articles mocking Sasha Obama and their treatment of Quvenzhane Wallis told me even more. A nasty piece of work, The Onion.

    Speaking of Quvenzhane, The Beasts of the Southern Wild was a mythical, supernatural experience of a Katrina-like episode. Of course I was glad to see Phyllis Montana's sister participate in this independent since Spike already went out of his way to create opportunities for the people he met with Treme. What disappointed with Beasts of the Southern Wild was the easy implication that citizens deliberately blew the levee rather than the more courageous (and maybe accurate) portrayal that government officials blew the levee to prevent water from rising in more prosperous areas of the city.

    Trouble the Waters was terrific to watch because it contained footage shot with commentary by citizens of the region which directly countered the "crazed beasts who don't deserve help" perceptions and propaganda spread by mainstream media and cold-hearted journalists.

    This is why whenever someone tells me "it's just a movie," I give them a long look. People died in New Orleans because of movies that portrayed them as people not deserving to live.

    I'm looking forward to Will Smith's entry, because the story sounds amazing, But again, I feel disappointed that no Black directors ever seem to find their way onto his short list. The script is co-written by White screenwriter John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and Adetoro, Black female actress and producer. He seems to be slowly warming up to the idea of Black writers (with White co-writers), but can't seem to make the leap to the idea of a Black director. I frankly think this story calls for Spike Lee's expertise since he knows the area and the people. However, I don't believe that Lee will allow Smith to "run" him. However, there is a long list of other Black directors capable of doing this work if afforded the opportunity. For instance, the Hughes brothers. Smith will hire Gary Whitta from the Book of Eli to write, but not the Hughes brothers to direct. Weird.

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