Monday, August 28, 2006


Has it really been a year since Katrina? Of course, it's surely seemed longer, much longer, to those still dealing with the hurricane's fallout long after the rest of us have been distracted by newer and shinier tragedies.

Watch Spike Lee's HBO documentary, WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE, if you have access. It's a searing indictment of the government's response, and an elegy to a city that may never be the same but that can still dance even while burying their dead.

Lee managed to get interviews with an amazing number and variety of players. Nagin, Blanco, Kanye West, the doctor who told Cheney to go fuck himself while Dick posed at a photo op, scientists, historians, and most especially survivors of all stripes. As illuminated by Lee's interviews and footage from both then and now, there's plenty of blame and pain -- and resilience and resolve -- to go around.

I learned all kinds of things I didn't know before, such as the allegations that the levees were breached by explosions on purpose, a callback to an actual event from an earlier New Orleans hurricane, where a levee was detonated in a poor neighborhood to save a wealthier one.

I didn't fully understand the breadth and (still) lingering impact of the evacuation diaspora, or the land grab currently underway in the largely vacated worst-hit neighborhoods. That insurance companies weaselled so thoroughly to avoid paying claims to lifelong customers who had lost everything. That cash-poor Louisiana sees no money at all from the natural gas and oil industries just offshore.

Among other things, the documentary begs the question of what might happen in another city, with another disaster of this magnitude.

Here's one for Californians to try on for size: what will happen when the Big One hits? Will FEMA go to Pacific Heights and Beverly Hills before Bayview and Compton? And what will happen next?


Anonymous said...

You do realize that most of the stuff in Lee's "documentary" is completely fictitious, don't you? It's similar to Oliver Stone's JFK, where every available conspiracy theory - no matter how highly discredited - has been thrown into the pot.

Yes it's a very moving and emotional piece. But it needs to be balanced against other less biased sources in order to get a true picture of something as complex as Katrina.

Shahua said...

Wow... is all I can say about Lee's film. That's all one can say after seeing something like that. It hits you at such an emotional level that speech is incapable immediately after viewing.
Oh... and Anonymous, how can you say that this is fictitious?!?!
The beauty of this film is that Lee allows people to tell their story! He just lets them go. He gives a voice to those who most need it. Something those in power haven't done to this date! Nothing "directs" this doc other then the painful stories of those who lived it. You would be biased too if a monstrous wall of water washed away your existence.

Kira said...

Yeah, all that video footage of survivors being helicoptered off their roofs and bodies lying dead in the streets looked totally fictitious to me. [/sarcasm]

Comparing this doc to JFK is stretching the point almost to snapping; the levee explosions were the only things I recall from the doc that could properly be called a conspiracy theory, and the point wasn't belabored.

That being said, Lee absolutely has a point of view and yes, the situation was complex. That's part of what I liked about his film, the fact that no one comes off smelling like roses. Some come off worse than others, of course, which is only reasonable as there were some indefensible things done and said.

Chris said...

what in this context would constitute "balance"? what happened to New Orleans was not a natural disaster but an utter failure of its residents by the government (both the Army Corps of Engineers beforehand and the state and federal levels afterwards). what would "balance" be? Bush, Blanco, Nagin, et al. explaining exactly how they ignored the warnings that the levees would not be able to withstand even a Category 3 hurricane? Or explaining precisely how it came to be that the poorest of the poor were left to fend for themselves in the days and weeks after the levees failed? i guess that would be "fair and balanced."

Bill Cunningham said...

I seem to recall those fateful words, "It could never happen here..."

shahua said...

Kira, your point about the comparison to JFK was spot on!

Although the levee 'explosion' theory is hard to believe, (nothing that sinister would happen, right?)I don’t believe that it hinders the credibility of the Doc. It was interviewee's response to questions and Lee lets the viewer decide. This is what great Documentaries always aims for.
As for bias, Let those who disagree with the claims survivors made, step up. Refute them with factual proof to the contrary, if you dare. If people are going to make such inflammatory statements, don’t be 'anonymous', own up to them and stand by them.