Sunday night I went to the theatre to see Trouble the Water, a new film by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. Lessin and Deal produced Bowling for Columbine, and directed and produced Fahrenheit 9/11. But Trouble the Water is different from both of these: It spends more time zoomed in on the subjects of the film–Kimberly and Scott Roberts, a young, married black couple, and their neighbors and family–and doesn’t worry as much about hitting the audience over the head with the political implications of each setback they experience. And Kimberly and Scott do experience a number of setbacks.

The film begins with footage recorded by Kimberly before and directly after Hurricane Katrina hit. A lot of the shots gave me the same queasy feeling that watching The Blair Witch Project from the front row gave me a decade ago.

Through the bumpiness and the blurriness, the movie gives insight into what people were feeling when Katrina landed. Kimberly interviews her neighbors before the storm hits, and later records the water rising. She turns the camera on when she and her family are trapped in the attic, and later films a neighbor setting out to rescue folks from their houses.

Some reviewers felt that the rest of the movie paled in comparison to the storm at the beginning. But it was the story of putting life back together afterwards that, for me, was the most thought-provoking.

After the storm, someone else takes over filming, and we see the Roberts at a Red Cross shelter, trying to track down their relief money to start over. I won’t give away what happens from there, but I will say that the ending is a little more sweet than it is bitter–but just barely. You wind up feeling pretty confident that Kimberly and Scott are going to make it, but the amount of injustice surrounding their experience is almost overwhelming.

The film is an excellent piece to spark conversations on poverty, race, the media, family, the criminal justice system, government responsibility . . . the list goes on. With a running time just around an hour and a half, this is a great movie to spend an evening watching and discussing in a group.

Trouble the Water‘s website also offers a great assembly of organizations rebuilding and offering relief in the Gulf. For some behind-the-scenes information, check out an August 22nd Democracy Now interview with producers Lessin and Deal, by Amy Goodman.

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Lisa Swanson

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