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"Trouble the Water" *** 1/2 (90 minutes)

Tuesday October 28th, 2008

Jed Dietz, director of The Maryland Film Festival, has done it again. So impressed was he by the 2008 Sundance Documentary Grand Jury Prize winner, that, when a release timing conflict prevented him from screening it at last May's Maryland Film Festival, he was finally able to bring it in Baltimore-along with filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessen-for free! The winner at this year's AFI Silverdocs and Full Frame Film Festival, this extraordinary film literally puts you in the eye of the storm known as Katrina using footage taken firsthand by Kimberly Roberts and her husband Scott-who happened to be residents of the ill-fated 9th Ward. The back story is amazing. Carl & Tia (who previously worked with Michael Moore) were filming in Alexandria, La when they happened upon Kim & Scott who had gone there when they were finally able to retreat from the storm. It seems that shortly before the rain and wind hit, Kim had purchased a camera for $20 on the streets of New Orleans and, instead of filming family events, turned her camera onto the devastation about to hit her neighborhood. Although totally unfamiliar with the camera, she managed to capture the harrowing experience that destroyed her community. Its utter rawness actually gives you a "You Are There" account that no poor Weather Channel reporter could ever convey! You are there as the Scotts' camera trains on the untouched neighborhood, on the initial raindrops, on the flooded streets below the attic where they and other folks were huddled, on the desperate 911 call where their pleas for rescue went for naught because no one was able/willing to rescue them, on the destruction of the 9th Ward after the rains had subsided. All along, Kim gives commentary that only adds to the terror of her surroundings. Although the battery power lasted only 30 minutes during the storm, there is enough pre and post hurricane footage to give the audience the full human impact that no one else could ever provide. Interspersed, Carl & Tia have provided the professional footage of the news reports and interviews that everyone across the country were receiving. After the waters had subsided, Kim and her camera walk the deserted streets. You follow Kim as she happens upon a house holding the remains of a homeless man she happened upon, and warned, just hours before the storm hit. And you are witness to the utter abandonment by their Government-especially after over 100,000 residents were unable to evacuate the city before Katrina hit the shores of Louisiana. (Scott remarks that they felt like they weren't U.S. citizens!) You follow them to a deserted Navy base where there are hundreds of unused beds, but, incredibly, they are turned away by sailors with M-16's. (You later learn that these same soldiers received Presidential commendations for their work in the city in the aftermath!) You watch as they are forced to take up residence in their old school-where their bed is made by pushing desks together. You come to realize what it was like to live in the shoes of the survivors that the news reports could never convey. As depressing as all this sounds, the film is ultimately uplifting and hopeful as it speaks volumes on the capability and fortitude of the human spirit. Kim has gone onto a singing career as a rap artist (as Black Kold Madina) and has even started a recording company (Her on screen performance of one song is quite inspiring and three of her songs grace the soundtrack.) Scott felt the need to do meaningful work and has succeeded in helping to rebuild his community-instead, as he says, of making drinks in a French Quarter bar. A small quibble: The filmmakers have correctly supplied subtitles for the heaviest accented New Orleaneans. I had just wished they had used it more as a lot of Kim's narration is indecipherable. Other than that, this is one powerful doc that is deservedly generating glowing reviews (currently 47 out of 48 critic approval on Rotten Tomatoes). One interesting side note: When the Scotts attended this year's Sundance Film Festival they attended the premiere on January 20th. Kim gave birth in Park City the next day: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The film was bought by HBO and will be shown sometime next year. In the meantime, it has opened in limited release around the country. On Friday, October 31st, it will open at The Charles Theater in Baltimore. Considering the short screening life of documentaries in most theaters, I strongly behoove you to get your behind to the nearest theater it arrives in it as soon as possible to witness this astounding film on the big screen.

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