Twelve years ago, this month in history (August 23-31, 2005 to be exact), America suffered its most destructive natural disaster. On August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina originated. And for the next 8 days, through August 31, it caused severe destruction along the Gulf coast, killing 1800 people, and destroying many homes and lives. Hundreds-of-thousands were forced to flee. The federal government’s sluggish response to Katrina only added to the misery. Local and federal officials all faced sharp criticism for their handling of the tragedy. Despite some progress in rebuilding, full recovery continues to be a long tough road for some, while debate over the disaster still goes on.
Since that tragic day, several films (both fiction and non-fiction) have tackled Katrina and its aftermath, with the most prominent of course being Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts – the 2006 documentary about the devastation of New Orleans, Louisiana specifically, due to the failure of the levees during the hurricane; and the sequel, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise – the 2010 documentary follow-up that looked at the years after Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans and Gulf Coast region, which also focused on the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and its effect on the men and women who worked/work along the shores of the gulf. Many of the participants in Levees were also featured in the sequel.
Also of note is Tia Lessin’s & Carl Deal’s Academy Award-nominated 2008 documentary, Trouble the Water. The powerful film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance 2008.
Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina landed, New York filmmakers Lessin and Deal flew to Louisiana to make a film about soldiers returning from Iraq who had become homeless, but the National Guard refused the filmmakers access. Just when they were ready to disband their crew, they ran into Kim and Scott Roberts, streetwise and indomitable NOLA residents, who introduced themselves. Kim bought a camcorder the day before the hurricane hit and, using it for the first time, she captured the devastation, and its horrendous aftermath, including the selfless rescue of neighbors and the appalling failure of government – all documented firsthand. The Robertses and their story form the dramatic core of Trouble the Water.
In addition, I will also recommend the late Jonathan Demme’s post-Katrina documentary I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, The Mad And The Beautiful, which chronicles community activist Carolyn Parker, who Demme met in 2005 in New Orleans, and followed over the years afterward, as she lead a crusade to rebuild her house, her church, her community, as well as her life and family, after the hurricane’s devastation.
And while director Benh Zeitlin’s 2012 critically-acclaimed debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t explicitly about Katrina, as the filmmaker did say that he was careful not to tie the film’s setting to any real place, time or issue – so as not to suppress its chances of being opened up to a wider, richer viewing experience and thus interpretation – it’s hard to watch it and not immediately think of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The images of father and daughter floating in a makeshift boat on what used to be concrete, but now buried underneath several feet deep of water, were reminiscent of similar photos and news footage we all saw post-Katrina. It was a strong first feature for Zeitlin; bold and brave, much like its soup of characters – fearless warriors who believe that they can do anything, greeting their disposition with celebration instead of remorse or self-pity, led by the courage of an emotionally brave 6-year old girl named Hushpuppy. It was an unconventional film – one centered around a young, black girl who defies all expectations – all of these descriptors applicable to the real-life victims of Katrina.
Premiering at SXSW in 2013 selection, was the multi-director feature documentary from Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, Paul Stekler, titled Getting Back to Abnormal, which would eventually go on to have its broadcast TV premiere on PBS’ award-winning series POV (Point of View). The ITVS/Center for New American Media/Midnight Films project mixes fly-on-the-wall verité footage, with interviews, as it charts the next chapter of life in New Orleans. The film gives audiences a look at the state of New Orleans politics and culture over five years after Hurricane Katrina, set against the 2009-2010 local political season, with the election of the first white mayor in a generation, structured around the city’s complicated, persistent race issue. It charts the next chapter for the city of New Orleans, bolstered by a divisive city council race, the destruction of the city’s housing projects and the rise of new neighborhoods like Brad Pitt’s eco-friendly Make It Right experiment in the ravaged Lower Ninth Ward, the awareness series like HBO’s Treme raised, and the stories of individual residents who are working towards rebuilding their lives.
All of the above films – all feature length – are available on home video platforms currently, so add them to your weekend watch-lists if you haven’t already seen them.
In terms of short films, there are likely numerous. Here are a couple that are online and watchable right now.
In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (in 2015), Time Inc. and Rampante presented New Orleans: Here & Now – a short form documentary series executive produced by New Orleans native Patricia Clarkson and NCIS: New Orleans star Scott Bakula, which also spotlighted the talents of emerging filmmakers. The series comprised of 6 short docs on real people living in a post-Katrina New Orleans.
New Orleans, Here & Now was the first premium video content produced and distributed by Time Inc. in partnership with Field Office Films, a New Orleans-based company created by the producers of Beasts of the Southern Wild (coincidentally).
Of note in the series, given this blog’s focus, were 2 films directed by filmmakers readers would be familiar with: Darius Clark Monroe (Evolution of a Criminal) and Angela Tucker (Black Folk Don’t, Afropop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange). Monroe directed Two Cities which recounts what it means to be part of the displaced New Orleans population in Houston. And Tucker’s film, titled The Older Fish, follows four dynamic high school seniors, who were eight years old when Katrina hit, as they prepare for graduation.
Katie Dellamaggiore, Zach Godshall, Lily Keber, and John Maringouin rounded out the list of directors commissioned for the project.
Check out Darius’ Two Cities and Angela’s The Older Fish below.
But first, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the FX network is developing a season of American Crime Story that will tackle Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, although it’s been delayed and pushed back, to be replaced by The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
Katrina: American Crime Story will now be the third installment (instead of the second) of the limited series. Production is now slated to begin in early 2018, likely for an early 2019 premiere.
Reasons given for the switch include allowing time for the necessary digital effects that will be needed, as well as scheduling conflicts. This isn’t the first time that the project has been pushed.
Producers were previously hoping to start production in the fall of 2016 for a premiere later in 2017, but earlier this year, we were told that it wouldn’t be ready until 2018.
At the Television Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour in January of this year, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf made the announcement, adding that the Katrina-focused season was taking longer to develop.
“We just have really high ambitions for this franchise,” Landgraf said. “It’s just taken time to get material that we’re happy with.”
He also noted that the production will film in New Orleans, and certain times of the year are off-limits for filming because of hurricane season, coincidentally.
“We look at it on a show-by-show basis and try to be as accommodating to the talent as we can,” said Eric Schrier, president, original programming at FX, of long hiatuses.
Added Landgraf, “Do you want it now, or do you want it good? … We’ll take it later, and we’ll take it good.”
Indeed. Although “later” is now looking like 2019, 2 years later than initially eyed.
About the Katrina season, creator Ryan Murphy previously said that the working plan is to follow a group of six to eight people in an attempt to examine all sides of the tragedy, from the Superdome in New Orleans to the hospital, to those who were put on buses and dropped off with babies who had to wear trash bags for multiple days, and more.
“I want this show to be a socially conscious, socially aware examination of different types of crime around the world,” Murphy said. “And in my opinion, Katrina was a f—ing crime — a crime against a lot of people who didn’t have a strong voice, and we’re going to treat it as a crime. That’s what this show is all about.”
We don’t have a full cast list yet. Stay tuned…
While we wait, check out all the above films that have been made and are available, including the 2 short films from Darius Clark Monroe and Angela Tucker, which are embedded immediately below: