In 2006, director Spike Lee created an astonishing record of the cataclysmic effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans with his epic award-winning documentary, When the Levees... See full summary »
Spike Lee's take on the "Son of Sam" murders in New York City during the summer of 1977 centering on the residents of an Italian-American Northeast Bronx neighborhood who live in fear and distrust of one another.
In August 2005, the American city of New Orleans was struck by the powerful Hurricane Katrina. Although the storm was damaging by itself, that was not the true disaster. That happened when the city's flooding safeguards like levees failed and put most of the city, which is largely below sea level, underwater. This film covers that disastrous series of events that devastated the city and its people. Furthermore, the gross incompetence of the various governments and the powerful from the local to the federal level is examined to show how the poor and underprivileged of New Orleans were mistreated in this grand calamity and still ignored today.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As a resident of south Mississippi, I am incredibly frustrated by media that reports "Hurricane Katrina Struck New Orleans." In truth, Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi gulf coast and south Louisiana, visiting upon those areas a thirty foot wall of water. New Orleans, on the edge of the weaker northwest quadrant of the storm, was merely brushed.
It is a point which WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE brings out early: New Orleans received at best a glancing blow and it should have survived. The great disaster which befell the city was not so much natural as man-made. And throughout the documentary's four hour run time, director Spike Lee not only presents a kaleidescope of interviews with survivors, he repeatedly returns to the inevitable question: how did it happen? Much of the answer to that question depends on who you ask. New Orleans has a history of blowing levees, and early in the film several people state flatly that the levees were deliberately blown in an effort to protect the city's wealthier districts at the expense of poorer areas. But although director Lee gives the idea play, it soon becomes clear that no such effort was required: it was in fact a mixture of bad design; neglect; an unwillingness by city, state, and federal officials to spend the money; and, most simply, indifference toward the people of New Orleans and indeed Louisiana in general.
WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE is truly devastating in its portrait of a great American city's collapse. Interviews with survivors, archival footage, and news reports paint a damning portrait of failure at almost every possible level. Most damning is the picture of federal inaction. While people drowned in their attics, President Bush was on vacation. While people collapsed from heat prostration and dehydration Condoleeza Rice bought shoes at an upscale store. The minutes became hours, the hours became days, and the cavalry simply did not arrive.
Spike Lee is a somewhat problematic director, an artist who has the very distinct tendency to interject race issues into scenarios whether such is warranted or not. In this particular instance, however, I believe Lee is on target when the attributes federal inaction in large part to the fact that New Orleans is predominately poor and black. Had he gone further to note the obvious fact that the city is also of the deep South--a region that has typically been ignored by Washington--he would have struck a bull's eye; it is worth pointing out that south Mississippi, which is predominately white, experienced the same federal foot dragging and ridiculous mismanagement.
When all is said and done, WHEN THE LEVEES broke is a stunning but flawed portrait of a horrific disaster that befell a great American city--a city which, as of this date, has yet to begin a significant recovery and which will very likely never again be the New Orleans of legend and song. It's great strength is that it allows the victims to speak for themselves; it's great failure is a tendency to posit race plain and simple as the cause of federal indifference. It was a mighty factor, to be sure, but nothing is ever quite as simple as all that.
The DVD release includes three disks. The film itself offers a commentary by Lee; the third disk consists of bonus material that further elaborates what is indeed an American tragedy. In spite of occasional flaws, I recommend it very strongly.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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