When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)

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An examination of the U.S. government's role and its response to Hurricane Katrina.

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Title: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006– )

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2007   2006  
Won 3 Primetime Emmys. Another 5 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »



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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 (kchishol@rogers.com)

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An American Tragedy




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Release Date:

13 December 2006 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

When the Levees Broke  »

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$2,000,000 (estimated)

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(2 parts)

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User Reviews

Native New Orleanian: see this movie!
19 August 2006 | by (New Orleans) – See all my reviews

I saw this four-hour documentary here in the city, in an arena with about 8000 other locals (I was born and raised here and this is my first visit since Katrina). It was beautiful and had me crying from the opening montage, with the incredibly beautiful New Orleans music and Blanchard's haunting score. The point of the movie seemed to me to document the horrors and outrages that the human beings in the NOLA area had to survive (as Lee said introducing the movie, be sure you have a box of Kleenex), as well as their inimitable humor and love of life that has so far been the ONLY thing to sustain the city. In the nightmare aftermath of insurance ripoffs, government incompetence and stinginess, and frequent scorn and betrayal by other "Americans," we New Orleanians now know that we have NOBODY to rely on but ourselves and each other. And after watching this movie, I am beginning to have faith that that might actually be enough. Because we are strong, resourceful, loving, fun, proud, badass people. And to his enormous credit, Spike Lee totally gets us and has really captured the soul of the city itself: its priceless daughters and sons. All of us.

Our local rag, the Times-Picayune, published a racist and misleading review of the movie on the day it was going to be screened, basically saying it only portrayed the black experience of Katrina, whatever that means. Many white people I know didn't want to see it, based on this, which is a horrible mistake. Some of Lee's movies are provocative representations of race relations; this one IS NOT, or at least, not in that sense. Please don't fall for that--the documentary shows many different views, and of course not all "black" views are the same either, as we see, for example, in the astute critique of Condi Rice's shoe shopping jaunt. Racism is certainly an issue in discussing Katrina, but this movie doesn't endorse divisiveness at all.

I think we in the US, or at least in NOLA, ought to know better than to think that we can only relate to people who look like us. I wept for and laughed and cheered almost all the interviewees in the movie, whatever their skin color. The white women in St. Bernard and the black folks from the Lower Nine, the white guy from Uptown and the creoles from around the city. Even the rich couple from Park Island, who reminded my husband of Lovey and Thuston Howell. We are all affected by the events of Katrina, not in the same ways, but that's why this movie can help us. We can see many different Katrina stories and get a bit more sense of the scope and scale of this disaster. I grew up in Gentilly Woods so I identified most with the family in Pontchartrain Park, a few blocks north, even though I'm white and they're black. Go figure.

The bigger point is, white people need to stop freaking out about race and whether NOLA is a "chocolate city" or not, and look at the real problems: the wetlands, the federal, state, and local neglect of the levees, and the problems that preceded: education, economy, infrastructure. Those affect everyone in the city, and people outside NOLA should take heed, these are not just our problems either. This could happen to you.

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