The powerful documentary Trouble the Water adds a compelling new dimension to the Hurricane Katrina disaster by merging the story of the storm with the odyssey of an extraordinary young New Orleans-dwelling couple. Watching Ninth Ward residents Kimberly Rivers Roberts-whose own video footage the directors make liberal use of-and her husband, Scott, ride out the storm and its aftermath with their family and neighbors humanizes this natural and manmade catastrophe in a way that no amount of news coverage could.
Like thousands of their fellow residents, the Roberts stayed put because they had no vehicle to escape with. But as the water level rose in their house (three blocks from a breached levee) and in the days that followed-as it became clear that help was not on the way-the pair showed remarkable compassion and resourcefulness: sheltering neighbors and obtaining a cargo truck to transport more than two dozen people out of the devastated city. The couple takes refuge first in another part of the state, and then-feeling let down by their local government-moves briefly to Memphis to make a fresh start. Ultimately though, they return to New Orleans, determined to rebuild the city and their lives in the place they’ve always called home.
Most viewers probably don’t know many people like Kim (an aspiring rapper whose crack-addicted mother died of AIDS when she was 13) and Scott (a former drug dealer). But the filmmakers show them as real people, not archetypes of some underclass. In the face of a fearsome storm and staggering governmental incompetence, indifference, and occasional outright hostility, Kim is sustained by her faith in God, her love for her family (her grandmother died during the hurricane in an unevacuated hospital; her incarcerated brother was stuck in an abandoned jail), and her passion for her art. Although they’ve been on the short end of the American dream all their lives, Kim and Scott insist-with unfailing Southern courtesy-on their humanity and dignity. At one point Kim sings, “I don’t need you to tell me that I’m amazing”-but you’ll want to anyway.