It’s been ten years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. But for those who lived through the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history — and for those who watched the devastation unfold from the safety of their homes — it may seem like just yesterday. Over the course of just a few days at the end of August 2005, the storm claimed over 1200 lives and churned up over $100 billion in damage. And while Katrina hit many areas along the Gulf Coast, much of our national attention focused on the devastation in New Orleans.
Over the last decade, the City that Care Forgot has done its best to fight its way back from the dead. But the struggle to rebuild the Gulf Coast is unprecedented, and for many reasons the region will never be the same. Here are five films and television series that portray the hurricane and its aftermath with the bravery, strength and dignity that its survivors and victims deserve.
1. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, it quickly became clear that something had gone terribly wrong in the Big Easy. The city’s levees — which had been built to withstand immense pressure — crumbled under the weight of the waters and flooded the city. For those who chose to weather the storm — or couldn’t leave in time — what followed was utter chaos.
Spike Lee’s gripping documentary, When the Levees Broke, brings us into the heart of that chaos. It combines interviews with survivors and New Orleans natives with devastating footage of a city in ruin. Lee doesn’t shy away from controversy — he directly addresses the complaints directed at local, state and federal authorities who failed to help organize recovery in the days after the flood. But while the film is in some ways political, it also serves as a painstaking living history of one of our country’s worst disasters and a testament to those that suffered through it.
Even though ten years have passed, there have been surprisingly few fictional films made about Hurricane Katrina. Hours is the only film so far that takes place in the midst of the disaster. It follows Nolan (Paul Walker), a new father and grieving widower who finds himself desperate to save his infant as the city around him floods. It’s a taut thriller, one that somehow feels more unnerving because the stakes are set within such a dismal real-life scenario. And while it is very much a film about Hurricane Katrina, it never feels like it’s exploiting the tragedy.
3. Hurricane on the Bayou
This fascinating documentary lets you examine the consequences of Hurricane Katrina in an entirely new way: through the ecosystem that was devastated in its wake. Hurricane on the Bayou — filmed with stunning precision for IMAX — takes us through the history of the Gulf’s ecology and tells us how its rapid deterioration may have escalated the damage. Then, with the use of cutting edge special effects, it recreates the most harrowing moments of destruction during the Hurricane. All of this leads in to a sobering conclusion — that Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the environment was far-reaching and will be undoubtedly long lasting.
4. Trouble the Water
As is true of any major event, those that lived through Hurricane Katrina have given amazing testimony about the horrors they endured. Trouble the Water is the story of a young New Orleans couple who chose to film their ordeal. When an aspiring rapper and her boyfriend turned their camera on, it’s hard to know if they were aware of the history they were capturing. But the footage they collected helps frame the narrative of Trouble the Water. We can only watch, helpless, as the film chronicles the horrors of watching flood waters rise, the frustration at the government officials around them who don’t seem to care, and the growing panic amongst Ninth Ward citizens as their hope begins to run out.
It’s an oft-forgotten gem amongst HBO’s myriad of wonderful series. But Treme is more than just a great television show — it’s also a poetic, introspective take on recovery in a post-Katrina New Orleans. While the series starts off after the flood waters have receded, the storm is almost a character all its own — a ghost that hangs over the ensemble of characters and forces them to push forward. Treme isn’t easy — it puts its characters and its viewers through the ringer. But between its quiet moments of reflection and its boisterous, jazz-fueled musical sequences, it’s a redemptive battle cry for a city that desperately deserved one.
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