“Trouble the Water”

Pub date September 3, 2008
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

REVIEW Anyone impressed by Cloverfield‘s camcorder frenzy needs to see the remarkable video diary Kimberly Roberts made in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward while Katrina wailed and the government balked. Trouble the Water directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal initially came to the city in hopes of investigating the way in which National Guard support was waylaid by an America being stretched thin in Iraq. The film opens with the directors talking to a bureaucrat, but within moments Roberts and her husband Scott bum rush the side of the frame and never let go. The New York–based Fahrenheit 9/11 producers thankfully let Roberts’ eyewitness footage run for long segments, underscoring its The Hague–worthy indictment with periodic cutaways to the naysayers (George W. Bush, FEMA’s Michael Brown, and so on). When we return to her shot of a neighborhood drunk who died in the storm, it feels as significant a victory for the documentary process as the stabbing in Gimme Shelter (1970). The storm interrupts Roberts’ camerawork the first time; months later, back in the Ninth Ward, it’s the police telling her to stop rolling. Even when Trouble the Water moves into more conventional over-the-shoulder filmmaking, Kimberly and Scott Roberts remain enthralling subjects. It’s doubtful festival-goers saw anything as breathtaking as Kimberly Roberts’ autobiographical rap "Amazing" at this past snooze of a Sundance, where Trouble the Water claimed the Grand Jury Prize. Rappers, it turns out, make the best reporters.

TROUBLE THE WATER opens Fri/5 at the Sundance Kabuki.