Kim and Scott, Lower Ninth Ward residents, had videotaped from the time that a citywide evacuation order was issued on August 28th through the flooding that followed the breaching of the levees, until the camcorder's battery gave out. Though very rough, that home video is as gripping as anything that came out of that disaster.
Shot by Kim, the home video from the 28th shows the few neighbors with cars packing up to leave, while others decide between going to the Superdome or hunkering down in their homes to ride out the storm. When the hurricane hits the next day, the situation quickly deteriorates as the levees are breached and water floods into the low lying neighborhood. The Roberts and their relatives and neighbors retreat to attics as waters continue to rise around them. A recording, played over Kim's video, of a 911 call to an indifferent operator by a distraught woman reporting that her attic is filling with water and that there's no way out for her and her children is chilling.
Not only were the Roberts and their neighbors never rescued, but when they were finally able to lead a group of survivors out of the devastated neighborhood by commandeered row boat, they were denied refuge at a nearby naval station and a local National Guard staging area. Eventually, the Roberts made their way to the shelter in Alexandria, LA where they met Lessin and Deal.
Lessing and Deal attempt to stretch Kim's fifteen minutes of footage in a couple of ways which work to varying degrees. Supplementing with concurrent television coverage mostly works in giving scope, but intercutting Kim's footage with material shot by Lessin and Deal weeks or months later is both narratively confusing and dramatically defusing.
Following the Roberts for eighteen months, the filmmakers document the couple's bureaucratic frustrations getting FEMA assistance checks, a temporary relocation to Tennessee, and return visits and eventual permanent return to their old neighborhood.
The early return trips to the neighborhood are often powerful especially Kim's discovery of the uncollected body of her uncle who was among the nearly one thousand New Orleans residents who drowned, but Trouble the Water looses momentum in its second half as the filmmakers tenuously link the war in Iraq, racism, and classism, into a blanket indictment of the Bush administration's response to the disaster in New Orleans.
Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
The best of these extras is the Q&A at the Roger Ebert Film Festival, unfortunately it's also the worst in terms of quality with washed out video and blown-out audio.