Two political films this week, two very different experiences. While "Battle in Seattle" demonstrates how little can be achieved with first-rate resources and a roster of stars, "Trouble the Water" proves that a couple of gutsy amateurs with a home video camera can work wonders.
This Hurricane Katrina documentary puts the storm's havoc and its human aftermath on the screen so vividly that it leaves you feeling physically and emotionally battered. And yet this journey through the Ninth Ward's obliteration inspires a sense of hope about the community's resilience. Katrina left it devastated, not defeated.
The film began as home video shot by Kimberly Rivers Roberts, a 24-year-old aspiring rapper, and her husband, Scott. Like a fearless storm chaser, Roberts shot the gathering storm as it threatened her impoverished neighborhood. Her jittery, inexpert camera work aptly captures the chaos when the levees fail, drowning thousands of homes and at least 1,000 citizens.
A chance encounter with professional filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal ("Bowling for Columbine," "Fahrenheit 9/11") brought them aboard as the project's credited directors, and put the outspoken Roberts in front of the camera, where she demonstrates a performer's natural ease.
Lessin and Deal buttress Roberts' visceral footage with worthwhile contextual material. We see news reports and graphics, news conferences and telling interviews with President Bush and FEMA chief Mike ("Heckuva Job") Brown. The archival footage adds substance to the report, demonstrating the government's failure to provide even the promised basic relief to Katrina's victims.
The heart and soul of the film, however, are Roberts and her husband, who face the natural disaster and human incompetence with lifesaving courage and fortitude. And when they demand answers about why middle-class white neighborhoods received relief while poor black areas had to wait, their justified impatience lights up the screen. "Trouble the Water" should trouble the conscience of every legislator and official who let this foreseeable, preventable catastrophe occur.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186