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Film / Trouble the Water

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Kimberly and Scott Roberts

Trouble the Water is a 2008 documentary film directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.

It is about Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. It focuses on the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, and specifically on Kimberly and Scott Roberts. The Robertses, a young black married couple, want to evacuate when the storm comes but, being poor people in a desperately poor neighborhood, they don't have a car. (The film specifically notes that no one in local, state, or federal government provided public transportation for the evacuation of the city.) With no way to leave they decide to ride it out. Kimberly Roberts, who had just recently bought a secondhand video camera for $20, records the storm—clouds rolling in, thunder rumbling, rain falling, howling winds, and finally the devastating flood as the levees protecting the city fail. Her footage makes up a major chunk of the film.


The Roberts family spends terrifying hours in the attic of their house as the Lower Ninth Ward floods, until a heroic neighbor helps them escape to his house, which has a higher attic. But that's just the beginning of their story, as Kimberly, Scott, and their friends struggle to rebuild their lives, in the face of apathy and incompetence from a federal government that has little interest in helping poor black people.



  • Anachronic Order: For the first third of the movie or so, as the film skips back and forth between the documentarians meeting Kimberly and Scott Roberts in the immediate aftermath, Kimberly and Scott's return to the city weeks later, Kimberly's video of their experience during the storm, and stock footage.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Kimberly's brother Larry, who comes wading through chest-deep water to rescue the Roberts family. ("Larry, you're a real hero boy.")
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: The only time in the movie that Kimberly Roberts is shown smoking is right after they enter an unlocked house and discover the decaying corpse of a man they knew. (The body is not shown.)
  • Dramatic Thunder: A Real Life example as the rumbling can be heard before the storm hits.
  • Hostile Weather: Good Lord.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: A cheerful but utterly oblivious woman who works in the New Orleans tourist industry plays a peppy video about how New Orleans is so awesome. As the peppy song from the peppy video continues to play, the image cuts to the horrific devastation in the Lower Ninth Ward, a full year after the storm. Kimberly Roberts notes that the government was quick to clean up the expensive, touristy parts of town, while the Lower Ninth Ward is left to rot.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used on a few occasions, like a slow zoom onto a picture of Scott Roberts's grandmother, who died along with several other elderly patients at a hospital when their doctors and nurses abandoned them.
  • Kick the Dog: The family dog Baby was shot by National Guardsmen.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Most of Kimberly Roberts' footage of the disaster, like when she's biking around the neighborhood hours before the storm hits, the camera fixed to the handlebars.
  • Scenery Gorn: All of the video of the horrible destruction in the city.
  • Stock Footage: Quite a bit, with lots of TV coverage of the storm. Julie Chen is shown speculating not about the suffering and dying in New Orleans, but what effect the disaster will have on gas prices. A TV reporter filming from downtown is blown off his feet by the winds.
  • Titled After the Song: From a lyric in the old spiritual "Wade in the Water"—"God's gonnna trouble the water." Kimberly Roberts performs a rap titled "Trouble the Waters" over the credits.
  • Title Drop: When Kimberly hears the song "Wade in the Water" over the radio and starts singing along.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Scattered through the end credits. Kimberly Roberts recorded an album, her brother Larry came back to New Orleans, her brother Wink got a job, and the naval officers who denied shelter to the desperate people of the Lower Ninth Ward got medals for doing so.

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