Directed by: Spike Lee | 258 minutes | documentary | Actors: Darleen Asevedo, Jay Asevedo, Shelton “Shakespeare” Alexander, Lee Arnold, Gralen Bryant Banks, John Barry, Robert Bea, Harry Belafonte, Wilhelmina Blanchard, Terence Blanchard, Kathleen Blanco, Douglas Brinkley, Joseph Bruno, Karen Carter, Louis Cataldie
“When the Levees Broke” is a four-hour documentary about events in New Orleans in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the city and beyond. The film is split into four acts, each highlighting a different aspect of the disaster. Through interviews with many eyewitnesses and other (politically) involved, director Spike Lee shows the consequences of the hurricane and the many mistakes made by the American government during the emergency relief and reconstruction, which only seemed to exacerbate the scale of the disaster.
Spike Lee is known for his socially engaged films, in which African Americans almost always play the lead. Usually, however, these are feature films and not documentaries. African Americans also play a leading role in “When the Levees Broke”. This is not surprising when you consider that most of the residents of New Orleans are African American.
“When the Levees Broke” was filmed from the point of view of the underprivileged inhabitants of this devastated city. The documentary exposes a number of painful government mistakes that have most affected the social underclass in New Orleans. An example of this is the clumsy assistance, which meant that people who took themselves to safety in the Superdome in New Orleans received no outside help for days.
The music, which is entirely by Terence Blanchard, plays an important role in the film. Blanchard regularly collaborates with Spike Lee, but “When the Levees Broke” was a special project for him. The jazz musician is from New Orleans and he experienced the disaster up close. He is one of the many interviewees, along with his mother and grandmother. The image of Blanchard going out with his grandmother to see what remains of her house after Katrina is heartbreaking and thus revealing. Spike Lee has once again shown himself to be a very talented filmmaker with “When the Levees Broke”.
Thanks to the many interviews with interesting people, the impressive images and the great soundtrack, “When the Levees Broke” is a gripping documentary that makes you think about the vulnerability of Western countries to disasters of such magnitude.