Hurricane Katrina made landfall seven years ago last August, and with it came considerable damage to the infrastructure and residential areas of states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. Of course, these are the states that usually feel it the most during hurricane season. Yet Katrina’s strength was so intense that its effects were felt even as high north as Ohio, where two people fell victim.
Yet when anyone hears the term Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana springs to mind, more specifically the state’s largest metropolitan area, New Orleans. When Katrina hit the gulf on August 29, 2005 and tore down the levees that were built to stand in the way of such titanic hurricanes, the rampage it caused was enormous in scope. An estimated 80% of the city was underwater, which prompted the relocation of over 14,000 Louisiana citizens to the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints. The death tally came out to 1,836 in the end, with Louisiana contributing 1,577 to that count.
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But what people also remember about Hurricane Katrina was the ineptness on the part of both the Louisiana government and the federal government in responding to the chaos. It was many days before the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent any workers to New Orleans in an effort to manage the mess. A multitude of things such as cross-wired communication, incompetence and a possible presence of general apathy towards those affected showed the country and its government performing to the least of their abilities. Even though only a few years have passed since the tragic storm, many filmmakers have responded to tell the stories of the devastation and the paltry response that followed.
A large majority of these films that have been made have been in the form of documentary. The most famous and widely acclaimed of these documentaries is Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” Lee’s film was originally broadcasted as a two part mini-series on HBO in August 2006, a year after Lee visited the greater New Orleans area and witnessed the aftermath of the storm first hand.
He spends most of the film interviewing a wide array of subjects, including famed residents, scholars of African-American studies, even celebrities such as Sean Penn and Kanye West. Politicians such as Mayor Ray Nagin, Senator Mary Landrieu and Governor Kathleen Blanco are put on the hot seat (no officials from the Bush Administration agreed to be interviewed). Using these first person accounts and often his own incendiary voice, Lee paints a vivid portrait of a government that may not have been merely inefficient (thought it was), but also unsentimental to the impoverished neighborhoods that were effected dramatically by Katrina. Lee’s documentary went on to win three Emmy Awards, and is generally considered to be one of the finest films of his quite excellent filmography.
The Academy Award nominated “Trouble the Water” follows three individuals who are relocated from their destructed homes in the ninth ward. Directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin use the film as a subtle exploration of racial politics and class warfare in America. It is also a profoundly moving work.
New Orleans has always been a city with a rich and diverse musical tradition. Of course, many musicians lost their instruments to the flood. “Music Rising,” directed by Don Young, focuses on the charity organization put together by popular artists like U2’s The Edge, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan that aimed to put instruments back in the hands of these local musicians. The film features a plethora of wonderful music performances.
Not all of the films made about Hurricane Katrina have been in documentary form. In theaters right now, the critically lauded film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is winning over audiences with its tale of a precocious and feisty young girl that uses her vivid imagination to shield herself from the misery caused by the storm that surrounds her. Benh Zeitlin’s film, based on the play “Juicy and Delicious,” has already won prizes at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals, and is a powerful testament to the imagination.
The cinematic community has long been known for responding to the most cataclysmic events in society. It’s inherent in art to explore what shapes our societal structure. So many wonderful filmmakers have not let audiences down in this case, and have brutally portrayed a tragic week when the government did let them down.
Author BIO: Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast, writer of movie reviews, and owner of www.movieroomreviews.com which has great information on movies, actors and movie news. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.