Tuesday, January 02, 2007

When the Levees Broke

I tried to think of a clever title for this post, but anything I came up with seemed too frivolous, so I'll just stick with the title of the documentary I want to talk about.

I spent last week watching "When the Levees Broke," a documentary about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Spike Lee. I have not been so mesmerized and moved by a piece of film in a long time. As most of you know, I spent a few days in New Orleans last summer preparing for our youth mission trip, and got fairly familiar with the layout of the city, including driving down to the Lower Ninth Ward a couple of times. THAT was an experience I will never forget. As I watched this program, I saw footage and still photos of places I'd driven by, and saw interviews with a wide variety of individuals who lived in various parts of the Crescent City. It was eerie to see the footage during and immediately post-Katrina compared to what I had seen nine months later, but I was really glad that I was familiar enough to have an appreciation of what I was seeing.

This is not a feel-good documentary, but I came away with a sense of hope and inspiration after seeing the amazing resilience of the residents of New Orleans, their refusal to give up and their immense pride in their hometown and the great history and heritage of the city. Some of the interviews were done immediately after the hurricane on location, and then others were done in a studio at various times. Interviews ran the gamut from devastated and displaced residents to politicians, radio hosts, historians, meteorologists, government workers, news anchors, and Sean Penn, who had seen some footage and felt compelled to take action and use his celebrity to do some good.

Some of the footage is hard to watch, but I could not look away. Bloated and rotting bodies, weeping mothers, rubble and devastation everywhere. Angry people, angry and sometimes foul language, but understandable under the circumstances. You need to prepare yourself to have your heart broken and your conscience challenged.

On another note, the soundtrack, by Terence Blanchard, is haunting, melancholy, and will get in your head and live there. I wish I could buy it, but because the program was an HBO special, it seems that the music is not available.

I think every American citizen should see this program. I don't care if you are a supporter of Bush or if you aren't, if you are a Democrat or a Republican, if you are a liberal or a conservative, if you are black, white, or somewhere in between. This is an important piece of film history and we all need to see the reality that America is already forgetting. New Orleans is coming back, slowly, but it's a long way from being the city it once was. But the people there have an indomitable spirit and I pray that they will continue to get the support they need to rebuild this amazing city.

I challenge you to invest the several hours it will require and see this film. It will change you forever.


Julie said...

Thanks for sharing about this, Gail. I'd like to watch this sometime.

mytriparoundthesunshine said...

What an experience to have been there less than a year after Katrina. I know it will be strange when Steven and I return (hopefully this fall). But I know the spirit of New Orleans will always be there. It's just too...spirited to be crushed.

hampton said...

i had intended to see the documentary when it debuted on hbo but i missed it somehow. i will have to put it on my netflix list. my friend julie and i talked about new orleans a lot when i was up visiting in nyc. she went on a trip with her church she's been going to in brooklyn, they have been trying to go every 6 months and the next time they go i think i'm gonna try and go with her.