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Hurricane Katrina impact on New Orleans’ poor is subject of film at MJC

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POSTED March 3, 2010 2:23 a.m.
MODESTO – When Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans on August 29, 2005, followed by the catastrophic collapse of the levees built to contain the Mississippi River, the floodwaters swept through 80% of the port city, causing disproportionate damage to the Ninth Ward and other low-income neighborhoods.

“Trouble the Water,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary and won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Award in 2008, is the next selection of the MJC Civic Engagement Project’s Film and Lecture Series.  The free public screening will take place on Thursday, March 4, at 7 p.m. in Forum 101 on East Campus.  The film shows the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, particularly on its population of poor.  

One young resident, economically unable to flee the oncoming storm despite orders to evacuate, picked up her Hi-8 video camera and filmed a diary of her experience and those of the people of the Ninth Ward.

“It’s going to be a day to remember,” she proclaimed into the microphone.

Kimberly Rivers Roberts, aka ‘Black Kold Madina,’ her rapper name, fearlessly and with astonishing self-confidence documented the approaching disaster.  She filmed the palm trees bending like boomerangs in the sideways rain and her husband, Scott Rivers-Roberts’ rescue of those who were helpless in the flood.  She interviewed and calmed her terrified neighbors huddling in their attic as the floodwaters filled their house.  She covered, as well, the aftermath of the event that in the end changed their lives, apparently for the better.

Had it not been for the arrival of two New York filmmakers who met her by chance, Roberts’ 15-minute home movie might have remained just that. But the 24-year-old, with her laundry list of personal troubles and indomitable sense of destiny, became the protagonist of an award-winning documentary that incorporates the film footage she took.  In the process, Roberts and her husband became symbols of New Orleans’ ordeal and ongoing resurrection.

 Film makers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal describe their film as “a redemptive tale of two self-described street hustlers who become heroes; two unforgettable people who survive the storm and then seize a chance for a new beginning.”  Editing the home movie footage together with TV news segments and their own documentary footage as they follow the Roberts couple over the next two years, Lessin and Deal compose a story of unforgettable people surviving not only the natural disaster but the failed levees, governmental incompetence and societal indifference, but also their own issues as children of poverty and social neglect.  The film closes with a compelling performance of a rap song by Roberts, born out of her own life experience that announces her ascension to a new level of self-mastery and empowerment.

MJC cultural anthropology professor James Todd, who is also a musician, will moderate the post-film discussion. Todd, a PhD candidate in anthropology at University of California, Santa Cruz, earned a master’s in anthropology and international development from The George Washington University.  His focus concerned the cultural politics of international aid programs, urban and rural development, and race and ethnicity.  Todd said he is interested in the way this film brings forward issues of race and class in America that were revealed by the events of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

For more information on the film screening contact Laura Paull, Professor of Journalism, Film and Mass Media, at or call 575-6224.

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