Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge.
"When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" was a surprising
film joint from Spike Lee. It was surprising, given that both the subject and filmmaker are controversial. Instead, or because of this, the film is exhaustive. There must be over a hundred subjects interviewed. Every single aspect of the hurricane is explored, first from an on-the-ground perspective, then an opposing on-the-ground perspective, then an outside perspective, and finally someone putting this in the larger perspective. Every major player from the local government, state government, and Army Corps of Engineers is in the film. You hear the stories of the anger directed towards the Corps, then you walk the levees with the man in charge of the rebuild, and then you hear someone mention that everyone knew that the levees would not hold. There is anger directed at the governor for not doing something - interview with the governor about the slow response - footage of the governor in front of Congress. I can't think of a single stone that was left unturned, then turned back, samples taken for composition testing, and then carbon dated and compared with the stones around it.
While the movie is heavy, detailed, and exhaustive, the interviewees are what makes the film. I remember that in the days before the hurricane hit that officials were telling residents to bring axes into the attic with them. It's another thing entirely to see the clip rerun with Ray Nagen telling you what it was like to deliver that bit of advice. You "hear" stories about uninsured losses, and then Detective Bunk (I'm sure he has a name - but that name is meaningless to me after five seasons of The Wire) tells you how the insurance companies settled the losses for his father's house. And, you cry.
In truth, the film is long. I checked out the first 2 Acts from the library... right before Hurricane Irene was forecast to hit. By the time I realized there was another DVD to check out, reserved it, and waited for someone to return it, it was 3 weeks later. I can't imagine watching the whole movie in one sitting. It is a powerful film.