A requiem for a city
While Friday’s election count will inevitably have its share of must-see moments, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” was truly the most extraordinary four hours of TV I’ve seen in an age. When Hurricane Katrina tore New …
While Friday’s election count will inevitably have its share of must-see moments, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” was truly the most extraordinary four hours of TV I’ve seen in an age.
When Hurricane Katrina tore New Orleans apart in September 2005, film-maker Spike Lee was one of those watching from afar and wondering just why the response from the emergency services, government and authorities was so slow. He could tell right away that there was a story to be told. A few weeks later, he grabbed his cameras, headed to Louisiana and started filming. He kept filming for a year.
What Lee found in the midst of that ruined city were dozens and dozens of human dramas and tragedies. He got people to talk about what happened to them when Katrina hit their homes and how they survived everything from taking refuge in the Superdome to FEMA’s complete incompetence. He tracked people who ended up as refugees in their own country. He let the city’s administration tell their stories. He went with engineers to the levees which were supposed to protect the city and outlined, fact by fact, what happened.
While there are some familiar faces – musicians like Wynton Marsalis and Kanye West, actors like Sean Penn, politicians like Rev Al Sharpton – it’s the city’s citizens who stand out in Lee’s documentary. There’s one woman in particular you won’t forget in a hurry. Her name is Phyllis Montana LeBlanc. From the Lower Ninth Ward, she’s the film conscience, turning up again and again to furiously berate and lambast the way her country has abandoned her and her neighbours.
“When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” was first shown on HBO in the United States last year. It was screened at some stage by BBC4, but it’s now available on DVD via the usual online sources. Essential viewing.