Review and Open Thread: Trouble the Water

Above is the trailer for Trouble the Water, Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature and winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at last year's Sundance Film Festival, which premieres this month on HBO and is available for rental at Netflix.

Its subject is loosely Hurricane Katrina, but the film is really about a group of people who survived the hurricane, without any help from the government—and frequently despite the government's intervention against them. One of the main protagonists of the film, Kimberly Rivers Roberts, shot footage of waiting out the storm in the Ninth Ward and of their journey to survive in the aftermath. The documentary intersperses her footage with that shot by the filmmakers, and the result is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.

I watched the film last night; it is difficult to watch even as a distant observer of events because it is so upsetting, keenly evoking the feelings of rage and impotence and sadness and despair first experienced during those days and weeks immediately following the hurricane, and exposing an intimate view of the experience to which a distant observer never had access in the same way. We are in the attic with Kim and Scott and Brian and their family and friends. It is terrifying to watch, partly because one knows the horror that will follow.

And yet—there are things I had never heard. Terrible things. A Navy base with empty rooms turning away victims of the hurricane at gunpoint; our then-president awarding the base for averting a potentially violent confrontation. With the citizens the Navy is meant to protect! When you think you can never be shocked again, there is more, always more.

In the end, almost unimaginably, the film is incredibly inspiring. The people at the center of the film are just, at every turn, emblematic of what makes America great, even as America has withheld so much of what it has to offer from them. I won't say anything more of the film, lest I rob of its impact. All I will say is this: I urge you to see it.

If you have seen it, share your thoughts in comments.

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