Her footage is surrounded by professionally filmed material that deepens and explains what happened. But the eyewitness footage has a desperate urgency that surpasses any other news and doc footage I have seen. Using lessons learned from TV news, she interviews her family, friends and neighbors, does voiceovers while making shots, even signs off with her stage name as a rapper: "This is Black Kold Madina from the 9th Ward.”
We see the prologue to the storm. Residents have been urged to evacuate, but many do not have the means or the ways to get to evacuation centers, buses or trains. If they have cars, they don't have gas money. They hunker down and hope to live through it. Kimberly warns a homeless man: "You better take care of yoself or the storm gonna whup yo ass!”
Drops of rain start to fall. They watch the TV news. Katrina worsens. Power goes out. The levee near their house is breached. Waters rise. They take refuge in their attic, in pitch darkness. We hear their call to 911. They have women and children up there, even a baby. They're trapped. They're told no rescue teams are working "at this time" -- or not for days, in their neighborhood. They escape, helped by a muscular Good Samaritan who found a boat drifting past. Eventually they retreat to shelter in Alexandria, La., where the makers of this film, Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, found them and her footage. Her film changed all their plans for theirs.
The documentary shows outrageous behavior, none more so than when they and many others are directed to a nearby Navy base for refuge. The base is being closed. It has an empty housing unit in plain view with hundreds of beds. The gates are locked. They are turned away at gunpoint by sailors with M-16s.
Roberts needs more practice at holding the camera steady and framing shots. It doesn't matter. We feel her footage at the base of our spines. Sometimes she says nothing, just points the camera, and the images speak for themselves. Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, who have worked with Michael Moore, augment her eyewitness account with footage from TV news showing New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and shots of the breached levees and the panorama of destruction.