Trouble the Water

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Trouble the Water

It’s August 27, 2005, the day before Hurricane Katrina turns Kimberly Roberts’s New Orleans neighborhood, the Ninth Ward, into a disaster area. For the moment, the aspiring female rapper (professional name: Black Kold Medina) and her husband, Scott, are roaming around with a camcorder, chatting with other locals who were left behind. “We’d like to get out of town,” she says, “but we couldn’t afford the luxury.” That statement is the only time Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s documentary stoops to sound-bite level; if anything, this film is a testament to the power of showing over telling. What comes shortly after that casual damnation is a doozy: Stuck in her attic as flood waters rise past the front door, Kimberly records a horrifying first-person testimony of facing down Mother Nature’s wrath.

That ten-minute amateur video is undeniably the money shot of Trouble the Water’s social-breakdown recap, and Deal and Lessin wisely let the couple take the lead. Along with a neighbor who helped them escape, the Robertses are our Dantes, guiding us through a Divine Comedy of bureaucratic neglect: inefficient help (and outright hostility) from the military, MIA FEMA checks, federal promises that are never fulfilled. The filmmakers’ own editorial touches, like their WTF? choice of stock R&B over the now-familiar sight of Astrodome refugees, are thankfully kept to a minimum. Trouble the Water’s political-made-personal power to invoke both Anderson Cooper levels of rage and the sense that hope springs eternal rests solely with its main subjects; if you don’t feel the latter when Kimberly defiantly raps about survival at the end, you have no heart.

By: David Fear

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Release details

Rated: NR
Release date: Friday August 22 2008
Duration: 93 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Carl Deal, Tia Lessin