The Best Katrina Documentaries

Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans is in the midst of a renaissance—it’s one of the hippest places to live in the country. The city’s current coolness is the result of a long, courageous struggle to rebuild after the storm.

A couple months ago, some friends and I were at Markey’s Bar in the Bywater. There was a lull in our conversation, and we overheard a peppy lady at a nearby table say, “I’m from the seventh ward!”

Hearing this, a friend of mine, who was born and raised in New Orleans, clenched his jaw and looked over his shoulder at the unapologetic hipster. He turned back to us with eyes of dull rage. “She has no idea what it means to be from the seventh ward.”

In their uniquely Dionysian stoicism, most New Orleanians who weathered the storm prefer not to talk about it. Their outlook is powerfully forward-looking.

But for all of us who are new to the city and hope to call it home, I think it’s our duty to try our best to understand the man-made causes of the storm and the pain and frustration it took to bring the city back to life.

I am a new comer. After I came to the city in 2009, I watched every documentary I could find about the storm. Here are four films which put this anniversary into perspective. You can watch most of them online for free...

The Big Uneasy

You might have heard people call Katrina a “man-made” disaster. This documentary provides a jaw-dropping look into the epic institutional failures that caused the flooding after the storm.

There were two investigations into the causes of the storm. The first was funded by the same people who fund the Army Corps of Engineers. The results of this study could be summed up as: “Really big storm, there was nothing we could do to stop it.” The second study was privately funded, and it uncovered a massive array of stupid decisions made by the Army Corps of Engineers, proving that the levees failed due to neglectful engineering.

Watch It Online for Free

Welcome to New Orleans

In the days after Katrina, there was a racially motivated massacre on Algiers Point. A group of white homeowners “defended” their property by shooting any black person they saw. Most of the victims were on their way to be rescued by the ferry when they were gunned down. This film has chilling interviews with the white murderers who openly brag to the camera. “It was like hunting season!,” one of them says with a smile. To this day, most of the shooters have not been prosecuted.

Made by Danish filmmakers, Welcome to New Orleans provides an unparalleled look at the violent racism that Katrina unleashed.

Watch It Online for Free

When the Levees Broke

If you’ve heard of any Katrina documentary, this is probably the one. It’s the best over-all account of the events before, during and after the storm. Created by Spike Lee, this is the only documentary in this list directed by a black person, giving the it a nuanced insight into the racial undertones of Katrina’s manufactured chaos.

Made in two parts, the second part was released five years after the storm—making it an interesting chapter mark on this the tenth anniversary.

Watch It Online for Free

Trouble the Water

In my opinion as a filmmaker, this is the best film made about Katrina, because it portrays the personal, human drama caused by the storm.

The film begins with home video footage taken by a young couple on the afternoon before the storm makes landfall. They are trapped with their neighbors in the Upper Ninth Ward. “This is going to be a day to remember,” Kimberly Rivers Roberts says as the wind begins to blow. As the water rises, Kim and her boyfriend, Scott, are forced to take refuge in their attack. Kim keeps shooting until her battery runs out.

The flood was only the beginning of Kim and Scott’s journey. The story is picked up a couple days after the storm when the couple met up with a team of documentary filmmakers. We follow them for the next year as they struggle to rebuild their lives.

Indywood Screens Trouble the Water

In honor of everyone who went through Katrina and worked to rebuild the city, Indywood is hosting a screening of Trouble the Water this Saturday.

Kim and Scott’s story is worth re-watching on this ten-year anniversary, because their struggle is representative of what so many New Orleanians went through after the storm.

And the story continues! Over the past decade, Kim has been working on a follow-up documentary, Fear No Gumbo, about the process of bringing New Orleans back to life.

We will be showing scenes from Fear No Gumbo, and Kim herself will attend for a talk-back.

Kim is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to finish Fear No Gumbo. If you’d like to support, here’s the link: Fear No Gumbo Indiegogo Campaign.

Ten years after the storm, New Orleans is an amazing place to live. Let’s remember where we’ve come from, so we can continue to make our city stronger.