Nate von Zumwalt
There is truth in the conviction that “time heals all wounds.” But in New Orleans, exactly 10 years after one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history—and easily the costliest—the adage has met its match. In this week’s expansive and forthright New York Times story documenting the city’s recovery, the portrait of an embattled community comes into focus. Despite tremendous strides in a literal rebuild of New Orleans, the city’s longstanding economical and racial hardships remain. Worse, thousands of displaced citizens, most notably the 100,000-strong diaspora of black residents, threaten to dilute an arts and music culture that once defined the Bayou’s crown jewel.
If only Hurricane Katrina were just a hurricane. Its implications—political, racial, economical, and so on—meant that this disaster had the potential to ravage one of America’s most iconic towns. For that very reason, the events engendered an outpouring of artistic commentary, not the least of which was presented in the form of sobering cinema. On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we take a look at three documentaries (and a narrative!) that attempt to share the ineffable tragedy and the personal stories of its victims.
Trouble The Water
In a poignant retelling of the day the levees broke in New Orleans, directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin utilize terrifying raw home footage captured by a local couple during their struggle for survival and interlace it with interviews and media coverage to honor the story of Katrina’s victims. The result is an honest portrait of a ravaged town that’s been stripped of its spirited roots, but not only at the hands of Katrina.
Trouble the Water won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award the following year. GoWatchIt.
Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek
When Derrick Evans discovers that corporate interests are threatening his ancestors’ gravesites in his hometown of Turkey Creek on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he returns home to take a stand against a literal bulldozing of the land. But just as progress is in arm’s reach, Hurricane Katrina (and later the BP oil spill) presents yet another obstacle.
The film is streaming for free on World Channel through September 4th!
THE AXE IN THE ATTIC
After embarking on a journey from New England to New Orleans, a pair of filmmakers share the stories of the disenfranchised victims of Katrina they encounter along the way. The Axe in the Attic offers a collage of human stories about the search for home following the displacement of Southerners after the tragedy. GoWatchIt.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild film is set in a Louisiana bayou community where a ferocious six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her temperamental father, Wink (Dwight Henry), prepare for an impending storm that has triggered a community exodus. With a folkloric tenor that dominates the narrative, Hushpuppy guides viewers on a heroic expedition that finds her stopping at nothing to mend her father’s frail heart, save her community, and instill strength in everyone—and everything—that she comes across.
While not a direct reference to Katrina, it’s impossible to disassociate the themes addressed in Beasts with the drama that played out in real life. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic and went on to receive numerous Oscar nominations. GoWatchIt.