Friday, January 23, 2009

"Trouble the Water" Gets Oscar Nod: Bravo Tia Lessin & Carl Deal

We were delighted to see that the Nominees for the 81st Academy Awards recognized the film “Trouble the Water” from Zeitgeist Films in the category of "Best documentary feature." The work of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, this impressive documentary, which won a Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2008, presents "a unique, ground-level perspective on Hurricane Katrina that's been sorely missing from previous accounts of the disaster" (Roger Ebert).

Some people might feel like Hurricane Katrina is old news, but you would only think that if you had never experienced a hurricane or The South. Having experienced both, I think it is hard to overstate the importance of this cataclysmic event in America history, particularly Black American History. In many ways it was a turning point.

One reason I say this: our own documentary, Dare Not Walk Alone, might never have achieved theatrical release, were it not for Katrina. The reason? A lot of people who saw Dare Not Walk Alone before Katrina thought we were exaggerating the racial and social injustice we had documented in Florida.

While it is true that a documentary film maker can do that, choose the images he or she includes in the film to overstate the case, that is not what Jeremy did when he made Dare Not Walk Alone. There was as a lot more Jeremy could have included in the film about how bad things were and still are, but the problem, pre-Katrina, was that "the truth" was known only to a segment of the American people, a segment to which few people listened and about whom, judging by our government's reaction to Katrina, few people cared. In other words, pre-Katrina, people thought Dare Not Walk Alone lacked objectivity. That made funding (which has been, and remains, a huge challenge for the film) hard to find.

What happened during and after Katrina is that the measure of "objective" changed. Americans outside The South--and those who had managed to live in the South without fully experiencing The South--saw the harsh and undeniable reality on their TV. This was both important and unprecedented in so many ways, not least of which is the huge outpouring of support and aid that came from "regular" Americans, locally and nationally.

I don't think it is a stretch to say that you could glimpse the possibility of a black president in the aftermath of Katrina. It was clear from the positive responses to this natural disaster that a critical mass of Americans felt that the storm victims were their peers, their fellow Americans, worthy of equal treatment in all aspects of American life. Equally clear is the fact that many Americans now reject as unrepresentative and unworthy, a government that does not care equally or enough--as measured by real world action--about all Americans.

However, just as the election of an African-American president does not mean the Beloved Community has now been achieved, the passage of time does not mean that the wounds of Katrina are healed. There is much work still to be done and "Trouble the Waters" is a powerful reminder of that. So we say Thank You to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for recognizing this film and Bravo to its makers.

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