Film revisits Hurricane Katrinaby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Hurricanes have been in the news recently, but a couple of producers of Fahrenheit 9/11 are trying to get Americans to refocus on Hurricane Katrina. Their new film "Trouble the Water" opens this weekend. It tells the story of one family's ordeal during Katrina, and their struggle to rebuild.
St. Paul, Minn. — Like many journalists, Carl Deal and his producer partner Tia Lessin wanted to go to New Orleans when Katrina hit.
They heard about the Pentagon recalling the Louisiana National Guard from Iraq to help with the clean-up and to salvage their own homes.
So, Deal said, they went down to tell that story.
"After about three days our access to the returning guardsmen was closed down," he said. "And at that point we went over to a Red Cross shelter in central Louisiana and Kimberly Rivers and Scott Roberts came into our focal view there. Literally interupted an interview, which is how we open the film, and started to tell us their story."
In the film, Kimberly is talking fast: "All the footage I seen on TV, nobody ain't got what I got. I got right there in the Hurricane."
"We're from New Orleans, the Ninth Ward," says her husband, Scott. "Underwater."
"Their story is the story of 100,000 other people who hadn't had the resources to evacuate the city when Katrina came," Deal said. "No public transportation was provided to people who didn't have access to vehicles already. But they also revealed to us that they had videotaped some of their experience throughout the storm and it was just stunning."
Just hours before the storm came through, Kimberly Rivers bought a video camera from someone in the street for $20. She thought it might be fun to tape the storm to show her family when she was older. She thought she might even be able to sell the tape for a few dollars if she got something good.
What she ended up with was a record of her neighborhood getting pounded by the hurricane, and then flooded when the levee up the street broke.
"When it became clear that it was live or die, that anything could happen," Deal said, "it quickly shifted from being a little more playful to much more serious, which was 'this could be the document that we could leave behind so people can see how we died.'"
But Kimberly and Scott didn't die. As the houses flooded they sheltered several of their neighbors in their attic and helped float others to safety using a bright yellow punching bag. Carl Deal said the film crew realized it had something special.
"Yeah, it was a gift," he said. "And it was something that with it brought along a huge responsibility because this was a voice that you don't usually see 30-feet high on a movie screen."
Carl Deal says they decided to follow Kimberly and Scott to see what happened to them next, as they tried to re-establish their lives.
"I think that is beauty of this film," Deal said. "The viewer is on a ride, and you never know what is going to happen next. You don't know if Kimberly and Scott are going to beat the odds."
The crew followed the couple for months as they revisited their devastated home and then try to decide whether they should move to another city, and try to find work. They watched them wading through red tape to get help from the government.
As the story unfolds, the couple reveals some of the tough times they had before Katrina, having lived in poverty and struggled with drugs and crime. However, Deal says he saw them repeatedly draw on reserves of optimism and inner strength to survive which left him awestruck.
Kimberly Rivers and Scott Roberts were due to visit the Twin Cities to promote the film, but the visit co-incided with the arrival of Hurricane Gustav in New Orleans. Karl Deal said Rivers and Roberts had to head south.
"Because they had 20 family members who were relying on them for transportation out of the city," Deal said. "And they had no faith that the government was going to get people out. And so they had to fly home on a Saturday. They collected their dogs, they collected their precious belongings, and they collected 20 family members and they evacuated safely to Atlanta."
Carl Deal said the other thing he learned was how, as he puts it, Katrina is continuing, particularly for the thousands of people who would still like to return to New Orleans, but can't because they have no place to go.
He says as a producer on "Faherenheit 9/11" he saw how a film can precipitate a public conversation over a national issue. He stresses "Trouble the Water" is a very different kind of movie, but he said he hopes the film will have an impact.
"This a crucial election cycle where we have an opportunity to have a diffeent conversation than we have had in the past," he said. "I think we can talk more frankly about racial and economic justice than we did on the last election cycle and to the extent that we can use this film to help that kind of conversation, we are putting all our resources to that right now."
As of this weekend, "Trouble the Water" will be open in 100 theaters nationwide.
- Morning Edition, 09/18/2008, 6:55 a.m.