It was the winner of 3 primetime Emmys, including 4 other wins and 8 nominations: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. Such a documentary presented by BBC was said to be a “haunting look” at what destruction Hurricane Katrina brought to New Orleans back in 2005, and the one-and-only director, Spike Lee, was “in a fine muckraking mood” when filming that production. But that’s not the end of the story. Now we have If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, a 4-hour sequel that covers life after Katrina: a crippled, but determined community wanting to restore their healthcare, education, housing, economic development, and law and order.
But it is faced with “unprecedented adversity”: the government conspires to get rid of poor people, fails to meet the needs of its citizens, and confronts one of the worst natural disasters in history, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But the most pressing question is: what future waits for the people of New Orleans? To answer this, If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise unites people from former governmental officials to local Louisianan families to sit down and frame their opinion of the situation at hand. Some of them begin pointing fingers at each other, and when these fingers go jabbing, they jab hard. Hit the jump for my full review.
When the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, the locals celebrated their win, seeing it as the “re-birth” of their city, like they were “rising from the ashes” of their hardship. Even though it’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina, much of New Orleans was in need of recovery. Spike Lee covers a wide range of topics this time around instead of the previous “four acts” approach, such as public housing, post-Katrina healthcare, the 2009 earthquake in Haiti, Charity Hospital, the mental health crisis, Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School, New Orleans’ violent culture, police misconduct, the leaders in power and their responsibilities, and the BP oil spill, all of which break off into some personal inside stories shared by the interviewees. Returning topics like the FEMA trailers and the levees include some excerpts from When the Levees Broke to act as reminders of what was already discussed. The whole experience becomes a 4-hour news report (without the anchorman) that lets the interviewees define this documentary.
It’s easy to expect a lot of harsh words coming from this “cast”, but it’s said with much fervor. Senator John Kerry and Hollywood actor Brad Pitt are a few of the immediately recognizable stars. Important figures like Doug Brinkley (author of The Great Deluge) and Dr. Doris Roche’-Hicks (the principal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School) make an impact. Local families like the siblings of Ronald and Lance Madison (who were brutally killed by the New Orleans police after Katrina), and LaKethia and Curtis Green share their personal insights.
At given times, others have more of the spotlight, like Governor Clarence Ray Nagin. Spike uses footage of heated political meetings and riots to carry out the drama. In similar dramatic fashion, every New Orleans’ citizen gestures and speaks their opinion as if it were fact, tying in facts only as they connect to their opinions, and as a whole, it can appear controversial. But thanks to Lee’s artful style of filming, plus the simple jazzy/dramatic music performed by Terence Blanchard, a painful mood is portrayed, and will break your heart.
Spike Lee directs a documentary that captures some of the ugly sides of human behavior: footage of people lying dead in the streets after Hurricane Katrina; screenshots of people bleeding to death and being beaten by the police; environments laid to waste; and neighborhoods torn apart. Amidst it all, some interviewees can’t help but shed a tear.
The documentary packs a wallop as comes to a close; your respect towards humanity will be shaken as you watch greed and carelessness destroy some of these people’s lives. Lee skillfully interjects emotional “intermissions”, which are video shots of New Orleans and people standing in front of the camera, with Blanchard’s music drawing out the mood. They certainly don’t add any enlightenment to the issues at hand, but they will ingrain a despairing mood into your soul. Some of the footage is given special effects to look dimensional or chopped up, and while it feels unnecessary at times, it’s interesting to take into account. The raw images leave one slightly nauseous and speechless despite their deviation from the facts.
This two-disc DVD comes with the familiar 5.1 surround sound, including subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. Both discs have their own audio commentary done by Spike Lee, plus a feature on the second disc called Pickin’ Up Da Pieces, which includes more interviews (and for some reason, isn’t supported for subtitles). There’re new interviewees who, in general, cover their personal survival experience, and some interviews from the documentary are further explained in Pickin’ Up Da Pieces.
If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise leaves the viewer with one final word: the interviewees hold up an empty frame and introduce themselves. Perhaps this was director Lee’s artful way of endeavoring to instill in the psyche of the sluggish American mindset that the story of New Orleans does not lie in still snapshots of the past historic disasters. Rather, it lives and breathes through the 3-D “photos” of its struggling citizens, living out their triumphs and despair day-to-day, hopefully not forgotten. Understanding the city’s future is left unclear, but their pain is as vivid as daylight. Lee’s gripping style and “muckraking mood” doesn’t drop the ball with this sequel.