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When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (2006)

Spike Lee , Sam Pollard  |  NR |  DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (262 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Spike Lee, Sam Pollard
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: HBO Studios
  • DVD Release Date: September 2, 2008
  • Run Time: 226 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (262 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000J10F14
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,711 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts" on IMDb

Special Features

  • The complete four-part documentary on three discs
  • Commentary by director Spike Lee
  • "Next Movement: Act IV": a 105-minute epilogue featuring new interviews and insights
  • "Water Is Rising": A gallery of photos by David Lee with music by Terence Blanchard

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

One year after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, director Spike Lee presents a four-hour, four-part chronicle recounting, through words and images, one of our country?s most profound natural disasters. In addition to revisiting the hours leading up to the arrival of Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane before it hit the coast of Louisiana, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts tells the personal stories of those who lived to tell about it, at the same time exploring the underbelly of a nation where the divide along race and class lines has never been more pronounced.

Director Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke is the definitive document of the unmitigated disaster that was, and is, Hurricane Katrina. It's also a contemporary manifestation of an ancient tradition: an oral history, told by the people who lived it, with no narration and only the occasional use of archival cable and broadcast news footage in addition to Lee's own film. And a grim tale it is, an "American tragedy" subtitled "a Requiem in Four Acts," each of them about an hour long ("Act V," appearing on the third of the set's three discs, is a lengthy epilogue with new material not included in the original HBO broadcast) and focusing almost exclusively on New Orleans, as opposed to the Gulf Coast region in general.

Act I sets the scene; as the hurricane nears the Crescent City, some residents leave town, while others stay behind, figuring they'll just ride the storm out (Mayor Ray Nagin's "mandatory evacuation" order rings fairly hollow, as there's no public transportation provided for the many who don't own vehicles and thus couldn't get out even if they wanted to). The real problems begin after Katrina makes landfall on August 29, 2005. Displaced New Orleaneans crowd into the Superdome, soon to become a living hell for those stuck there; the incredibly poorly engineered levees break, flooding some 80 percent of the city; and people start dying by the hundreds, victims of drowning, lack of food, water, and medicine, and other causes. And so it goes. Act II finds the survivors struggling to keep it together while the federal, state, and local assistance they've been promised fails to show up; Act III traces the dispersal of these so-called "refugees" (as one man puts it, "Refugees? You mean they took away our citizenship, too?") all over the country, not knowing where their families, friends, and neighbors are, or even if they're still alive; and Act IV deals with the slow rebuilding of the city while insurance companies refuse to pay claims and money keeps going toward the Iraq war effort instead.

Several themes predominate here. One, of course, is the appalling performance of authorities on nearly every level, who ignored specific warnings about the levees and then professed ignorance after the fact; Lee doesn't have to go out of his way to make George W. Bush, FEMA chief Michael Brown, and other members of the Bush administration (not to mention his own mother) look bad, as they do an excellent job of that themselves. Another is the shameful ineptitude of the response; it's hard not to be disgusted when it's pointed out more than once that while we were able to provide supplies and assistance to Indonesians within two days of the 2004 tsunami, American citizens were virtually ignored for five days or more. Most of all, When the Levees Broke (which includes optional commentary by Lee for all four acts) leaves us feeling the sheer rage of the poor and dispossessed of New Orleans, where the population is 70 percent African-American. Confronted with the ignorance, arrogance, and callousness of the people whose job it was to protect them, they can point to just one cause: racism. --Sam Graham

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
116 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, and emotional November 19, 2006
I remember my mom saying you never know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. This documentary achieves this goal - we walk a mile in the shoes of those who live in New Orleans just before, during and after hurricane Katrina. Particular attention is paid to the shameful five days after Katrina when our government did nothing to help the people of New Orleans who were stranded with no electricity, food or water.

I learned so much from this documentary about the spirit of New Orleans, the people that make up this unique place and how they were failed by local, state and federal government. It is astonishing. Spike Lee showed intense respect for the people of New Orleans, he did what he does best in the background completely hidden. He let the people speak for themselves and he made the correct choices. He let people of all income levels, races, and walks of life speak about what happened in intensely personal ways through the lenses of their own experiences. More importantly he let them speak in their own words including profanity, frustration, racial slurs, and raw emotion as well as through prayer, song and music and thoughtful criticism.

He also exposed the shameful inaction of the federal government. There were interviews with New Orleans Mayor Ray Naggin, the Louisiana Governor, Lt. Governor, former mayor, Al Sharpton, Harry Belafonte and many other local politicians. The most surprising and eloquent critique came from Al Sharpton.
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109 of 123 people found the following review helpful
This may seem like an absolutely ridiculous thing to say--but I wanted to approach "When The Levees Broke" with a totally open mind. While the flooding of New Orleans is easily one of the greatest disasters in American history, it is also one of the most politically charged subjects of recent years. While I've never found Spike Lee to be the most balanced of directors, I was curious to see how his epic documentary about the aftermath of Katrina would fare. I'm pleased to report that a concerted effort was made to include alternating viewpoints and perceptions. That's why I attempted to leave my own preconceived ideas on the doorstep--I wanted to judge this piece on its merit as opposed to its (or my) political agenda.

Basically, "Levees" is constructed in four episodes--each roughly an hour. Part 1 details the incoming storm and its initial impact on the area. Here we see rescue efforts amid the flooding and many harrowing images of people just trying to survive. Part 2 deals with the immediate aftermath, as the evacuees are staged throughout the city awaiting assistance. Here, we start to share in the real frustration of everyone that assistance is slow and, in some cases, nonexistent. Part 3 documents a period of time where the evacuees adjust--waiting for a chance to return to their homes and/or rejoin their families. And Part 4 comes as people start to return to the city--to the horrors and reality that all is lost. The latter parts continue to focus on opportunities missed by FEMA to care for the victims, the Corps of Engineers to adequately defend the city, and the insurance companies who failed to make good on their obligations.

But most of the criticism is left for the national government and, in particular, the Bush administration.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phyllis Montana LeBlanc for President March 22, 2007
Phyllis Montana LeBlanc for President! Or, at least Secretary of Keeping It Real. Ms. LeBlanc, a passionate and articulate victim of the 2005 New Orleans flood, is one of many Big Easy residents who appears in the Spike Lee mega-documentary film WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE. Her commentary proves to be one of many unforgettable aspects of this must-see work.

Of course, by calling New Orleans residents victims of the August 2005 floodwaters, I oversimplify. As WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE documents, for forty years responsible powers knew the New Orleans levees could not withstand the pressure of a hurricane such as Katrina but did nothing. The Bush administration and F.E.M.A., who knew what was going to happen days in advance of the hurricane, did nothing. And when the storm subsided and people needed rescue, food, and water, the Bush gang and F.E.M.A. dragged their feet, allowing preventable death and misery for several days before acting.

WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE cuts no corners telling its story. About the only lowlight of those tragic summer 2005 days it misses is Laura Bush's telling comment, where she referred to the storm as "Hurricane Corrina" at least twice in the same interview.

While the illegal, immoral war in Iraq got most of the credit for the fall of the Republicans in the 2006 elections, the federal government's willful disregard for New Orleans had to be on voters' minds, too. As I write this in March 2007, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco has announced she will not seek re-election because of low poll numbers, so it seems the people are repaying Republican Lite Democrats such as Ms. Blanco, too. WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE closes with the Fats Domino song, "Walking To New Orleans." Another Fats Domino song, "So Long," speaks to the responsible public office holders who knew what could happen but turned a blind eye. May they get theirs.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 days ago by SANDRA WILLIAMS
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent production of the devastation and botch ups that caused so much tragedy during and after hurricane Katrina
Published 12 days ago by Ted
5.0 out of 5 stars This documentary will touch your human spirit!
An eye opener! This documentary captures the sufferings and the hardships of individual lives and what help was given during and after the storm! Read more
Published 12 days ago by Irmgard Bell
5.0 out of 5 stars Still feels like it was yesterday
Still feels like it was yesterday. I watch it from time to time. To remind myself of how glad I was to make it out alive.
Published 12 days ago by MsRed
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very informative.
Published 13 days ago by Sarah Lewis
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
very interesting documentary. worth watching
Published 18 days ago by jakesmom
5.0 out of 5 stars Katrina as everyone should know it.
One of the finest documentaries ever produced; ranks alongside "Eyes on the Prize." Should be required in all high schools.
Published 19 days ago by Charles T. DeShong
5.0 out of 5 stars Must see
Great documentary
Published 19 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars angry and even occasionally gallows-humorous account of the strange...
An exhaustive, ruminative, angry and even occasionally gallows-humorous account of the strange domino effect of tragedy compounding incompetence compounding tragedy that dealt a... Read more
Published 19 days ago by djcue120
5.0 out of 5 stars This should have been given much more publicity than it ...
This should have been given much more publicity than it was. A very informative documentary on how and for whom our government works. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Amazon Customer
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Topic From this Discussion
Does this dvd have part 5?
Yes...this DVD set has three disks. The Four Acts are found in the first two disks. Act Five (or Part 5) is found in the third disk.
Aug 11, 2008 by Jean Valjean |  See all 2 posts
Does the DVD come in full screen anywhere??
With fullscreen you miss some of the action on the sides.
All TVs will be widescreen in the future.
If you are used to fullscreen and have a fullscreen tv then I guess widescreen DVDs can be frustrating to some people.
Aug 29, 2007 by G.G. |  See all 3 posts
Is this DVD anamorphic (enhanced for widescreen TV)?
On the back of the box it just says Aspect Ratio 16:9, nothing about it being anamorphic transfer. However, the black bars gradually go away when you switch to wider aspect ratios on your TV without losing any picture or getting a distorted zoom effect. The picture was pretty clean and I didn't... Read More
Feb 6, 2007 by TUCO H. |  See all 2 posts
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