A survivor of Hurricane Katrina gets it all on camera in “Trouble the Water,” a blend of DIY footage and filming by co-directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal that considers the impact and aftermath of the New Orleans catastrophe from the perspective of a family that stayed at home during the storm. Though tinged with the sheer gumption and personal resolve of amateur vidmaker and would-be rapper Kimberly Roberts, this is ultimately a minor doc contribution to the bulging library of Katrina-related films and TV reports. Roberts’ own material will be the major selling point, with buyers in cable arena more likely than theatrical.
Lessin and Deal have worked in producer capacities with Michael Moore on “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Bowling for Columbine,” but they studiously avoid any of Moore’s worst tendencies and take themselves out of the picture, allowing Roberts to tell a good deal of her own story.
Pic’s first two-thirds alternates between Roberts’ shaky but engaging homevid leading up to, and during, the hurricane and levee failure, and Lessin and Deal’s footage of her and husband Scott returning to check on their home in a hard-hit neighborhood a mere three blocks from a levee break on the city’s Industrial Canal.
Roberts shows neighbors stocking up on groceries at the local mom ‘n’ pop market prior to the storm, and her persistent filming documents the darkening sky, growing wind and rising water (topping the street’s nearby stop sign), with her family retreating to their attic.
Neighbor Larry Simms, whom Scott disliked before the hurricane, comes to their rescue with a boxing bag as a flotation device. Roberts’ vid reps some of the more extensive by any Katrina survivor, though the most disturbing clip is Lessin and Deal recording Scott’s account of being barred, at gunpoint, from emergency housing on a nearby naval base.
The storm’s aftermath is much more erratically assembled and told, leaving several gaps in the story of how the Roberts managed to get out of the city, to their relatives upstate, on to Memphis, where they hoped to rebuild their lives, and finally returning to New Orleans to re-establish themselves a year later.
Roberts, a woman filled with moxie who describes her drug-addled past and how she escaped from it, also manages to get her rap songs prominently placed in the film. Scott, who also used to live the drug life, is last seen working with a crew rebuilding homes in devastated areas.
Decision to cut back and forth in time, under T. Woody Richman’s editing, loses its dramatic impact after awhile, and finally becomes more confusing than it’s worth. Massive Attack’s Robert del Naja and Neil Davidge provide a rather pointless score, since the images on screen do the work themselves.