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120 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, and emotional
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...
Published on November 19, 2006 by Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunc...

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the history channel
Biased and factually lacking. Lots of opinions. Standard Spike Lee. Interesting though.
Published 6 months ago by Megan


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120 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, and emotional, November 19, 2006
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
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. Both his media critique which was thoughtful and fair (referring to American citizens who were displaced by Katrina as refugees) and his reaction to Barbara Bush's comments about how the hurricane was better for the poor people who relocated to Texas (not a direct quote - what she said was much more insensitive) while she was being interviewed in the Houston arena in front of the New Orleans natives.

He includes famous and notable people including, Sean Penn, Michael Eric Dyson, Harry Belefonte and others sharing their insights but he never let's the expert, famous or intellectual voices take over; he never forgets the focus is the people of New Orleans. In this documentary you can feel his deep respect for them.

He gives a picture of their lives before, a history of New Orleans culture and what makes it unique and he uses the notable and learned effectively to set the background and add to the viewers understanding of what makes New Orleans special. The expert voices add to our picture of the issues related to Katrina but are not the primary source of information about the people of New Orleans and what happened during and after Katrina. New Orleans natives are the source of information about the experience of Hurricane Katrina and Spike Lee works hard to ensure that they are the focus. The experts are like a group of spices they add flavor but don't change the substance of the dish; he uses experts to shed light on the story but never supplants or marginalizes the people who lived it in the discussion of Katrina and its lasting impact. This is part of what makes this documentary so powerful is you hear from people who lived it and are still living it.

He also uses actual news footage and interviews members of the media who covered Katrina including Soledad O'Brien and the radio talk show host who did the now famous interview with Mayor Naggin which is credited with embarrassing and shaming the Bush Administration into action; Lee chooses not to include the entire interview but it is available online.

Spike Lee also explores the power of the institution of the Presidency and how important it can be when wielded properly on behalf of citizens in need. It matters what the President and members of his administration were doing while people suffered and died for five days after the hurricane. President Bush on vacation, VP Cheney was out fishing, Condoleezza Rice buying shoes and seeing Spam-A lot while people suffered and died. Lee finds a contrasting example in President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson, another Texan, went to the Gulf region after a hurricane in the middle of the night with a flashlight to tell the people that he was their President and to lend aid and comfort right away; he put citizens above ego and he was there.

Spike Lee did what many documentary makers struggle to do, he found a way to let viewers like me share in the experience depicted on film. While I watched this documentary I walked in their shoes and I will be forever changed by this glimpse into their lives.
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113 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spike Lee's Powerful Katrina Epic--A Critical And Emotional Look At An American Tragedy, November 26, 2006
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
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. And, again, whatever your political leanings--this is definitely a topic that needs to be examined. Through news footage and interviews from major participants including Mayor Naggin and Governor Blanco, you get a real perspective on what was going on behind the scenes. It may not be the most flattering portrait one could hope for--but it is surprisingly fair. And it is necessary to view our shortcomings as a nation facing disaster--if, for no other reason, than to prevent them from happening again.

It is heartbreaking what was left in the wake of Katrina. But it's even more upsetting to think it may have been prevented--or at least, after the storm, given more import by those who might have made a difference. Many of the documentary's subjects are New Orleans residents who put a human and personal touch on the catastrophe--and Lee has, thankfully, selected a diverse group from different socioeconomic backgrounds. That's what makes "Levees" most effective--looking at a broad canvas.

Most of the interviewees are noticeably and justifiably frustrated by the situations and much political talk ensues. I think the criticisms, in most cases, are apt. However, the one thing I wished "Levees" would have done more is to acknowledge the stellar support from individuals who made a difference working within the organizations that are widely being disparaged. There were many people who worked within the system who were not villains--yet these people (many who worked for months on the streets of New Orleans or with the evacuees) are largely dismissed. This is a shame for them and a blemish on an otherwise exemplary documentary. KGHarris, 11/06.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phyllis Montana LeBlanc for President, March 22, 2007
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
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.

See WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spike Lee: NOT A RACIST!, January 30, 2007
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
I've heard this criticism of Spike before this and I have never understood where it has come from. I guess if you spend your life and career documenting lives and creating stories about people that society has left behind, and if a large portion of those depicted have been black, I guess you get called a "racist!" Spike does see racism everywhere but let me ask you this: what black man of his age, who grew up where he grew up, doesn't have some of those tinges simply from being burned by the system? Every writer pours some of himself into everything he does, fictional or not.

I watched Hurricane Katrina and the various reports on CNN and other news outlets with a dull horror thinking about a National Geographic doc I had seen in 97 or 98 about hurricanes and tornados. They predicted, especially a through a chilling and prophetic artist's conception, exactly what happened in New Orleans in 05. An weather offical (I can't remember his offical post) said the levee's were a "two edged sword." If the water ever went over them, the water would get as deep as the levee's are tall. That's exactly what happened. As Spike points out in his excellent commentary that's like, as the best commentaries are, having a second movie included, that's what caused the destruction. Hurricane Katrina side-swiped New Orleans.

Through stunning interviews with most of the prinicipals involved with this tragedy, from Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco to Shelton "Shakespeare" Alexander and Wynton Marsalis, he cuts to the main human tragedy at the heart of the story. There are more black people in this doc than white people but hey, that's the majority of the people that got screwed by their government, from all sources except for the Coast Guard. There's enough historical information to answer questions and it's long enough (FOUR HOURS!) to give enough time to everybody to say their peace.

My favorite moments include Soledad O'Brien's "interorgation" of Michael Brown that shows what happens when reporters have the guts to ask tough questions and see through the lies and the avoidance that politicians always do when their backed into a corner by the truth. The analysis of the levee's and the warnings that were basically ignored by President Bush the day before the storm.

Spike's commentary is funny as well as insightful to his filmaking process. He proved to me that he wasn't racist when he says things like, "George Bush doesn't care about poor white people either." over footage of two white women talking in front of one of there torn down houses. He praises the two white guys who told Dick Cheney to go **** himself in Misissippi as well as the white lady who told Condie Rice "How dare you!" while she was shopping for shoes the day after the storm.

This documentary does what all good documentaries do. They answer questions while raising more while at the same time raising your awareness above and beyond where it was before.

Bravo Spike!!

By the way, the single largest death toll from a hurricane was in Galveston, Texas in 1900. The death toll from that was over 6,000 from a total population in the town from a little over 37,000! That is the greatest natural disaster in US history. Check out "Isaac's Storm" for more info.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Katrina Survivor..., December 24, 2007
By 
Michele B (New Orleans, LA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
I have to admit I was never a big Spike Lee fan before I saw When The Levees Broke. I was in New Orleans before, during, and after Katrina. I was one of the lucky ones that was on "higher ground" during the 4 days of hell I was trapped in the city. Four days with no water, electricity, 100 degree heat, complete darkness at night (all you heard were helicopters and occasional gunshots), and fear for my safety (I was a single woman alone in my apartment). Luckily, I lived above a grocery store that was broken into, or I wouldn't have had food either. In those 4 days, I didn't see one police officer, one rescue worker, or any kind of help. I finally left the city with neighbors, fearing that I would not get out because a neighbor the day before (a middle class white woman) was turned back at gunpoint when she and her husband tried to drive over the bridge that was the only way out of this city. We made it to Houston, and I managed to get a flight out, not knowing if I'd ever see "my city" again. Six weeks later, I returned, only to find myself illegally evicted by landlord and ALL of my possessions gone.
On the year anniversary of Katrina, my boyfriend and I decided to watch "When the Levees Broke". I sat there, completely entranced as I saw the news footage and all the devastation and horrible things that were happening around me. I still can't believe how little help New Orleans received. Two and a half years later, this city is STILL affected. You see it everywhere--streets full of houses with "For Sale" signs out front, people still living in FEMA trailers, people missing family members that left after Katrina and never came back. There is a fog of depression that still hangs over New Orleans and it's not the same city it was before Katrina. A lot of locals think the country has forgotten about us.
I commend Spike Lee (as well as Brad Pitt and Sean Penn) for showing the world that New Orleans still needs help and Katrina should not be forgotten. It's people like that who give me and others here hope.
We have made it an annual tradition in our house to watch "When The Levees Broke" every year on August 29th. I look forward to the day when those memories are blurry and distant, and New Orleans is the happy, exciting, fun, laid-back city it once was and hopefully can be again.
Review by Michele, not Joshua :)
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly bears witness to the Katrina tragedy. You'll be saddened. But see it anyway!, October 8, 2006
Directed by Spike Lee, this documentary bears witness to the tragedy of Katrina, the ineptitude of the U.S. government, and the very human drama that affected so many people in the city of New Orleans. Using images that will tear at your heartstrings, archival footage, music and lots of individual stories, this is a full exploration of exactly what happened.

There's lots of anger here, and lots of sadness. Death and horror seem to be everywhere There's a man who tells the story of how his elderly mother died while they were seeking immediate shelter in the Superdome and how, four days later when he was finally evacuated he had to leave her body. People were herded like animals into the Superdome for days and days. There was no water, no food, no working bathrooms. It was hot and humid. There was no escape. Other people were left on ramps above the highways and when they tried to walk off, they were met with guns from residents who didn't want them in their neighborhood. Reports of looting were everywhere. And the mayor and governor were arguing about what had to be done. Where was the U.S. government? Why were they able to send help to victims of the Tsunami the year before in Indonesia and could not send troops to help their own people.

Every single aspect of the Katrina story is horrible. There's even a segment when the cameras focused on the bloated bodies found in the aftermath. Later, even after the worst was over, the trailers that people were promised took six months to get. And families were split up when they were evacuated to other states. Then, the insurance companies reneged on paying insurance claims. It was just one awful thing after another.

Some of it can be blamed on the endemic racism that has always been present in New Orleans. Most of the people in the film who were affected the worst were African Americans, although there certainly were many whites with equally horrible stories. Mostly, though, all of these people were poor. They didn't have the means to run from the city as they didn't own cars. All of them had been through hurricanes before. They had sat them out then. They had survived. But Katrina was different.

Applause to Spike Lee for making this film! He doesn't appear in it but it certainly shows his unique view of the world. Of course I had seen news footage in the past and I remember following the story as it was happening. But this film took not only summed it all up, it added historical perspective and introduced individuals who, by the end of the program, I could identify with.

Yes, this documentary will haunt your dreams. You will be saddened. But see it anyway. Just be prepared for the worst.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spike Lee's Finest Hour!!!!, December 26, 2006
By 
Robert Byrd (Minneapolis, MN United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
Or, I should say, "Spike Lee's finest four hours." This is an amazing film and one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. I was excited to see it on a DVD shelf at Target and quickly bought it. I started watching it the same evening and found myself completely absorbed in the heartbreaking and shameful story of Hurricane Katrina. During Act II of the film I found myself wondering if I should continue watching because the anger I remember feeling as the actual event unfolded on television was rekindled in a very unsettling way. I once again felt ashamed of this country and its deeply entrenched denial of race as a baromenter of qualification for basic human dignity and respect. I think the terrible response of the government to Katrina was all about race and class (there were, after all, some poor whites who suffered as well). I have only two questions, "How is it after Katrina and Iraq that even 39% of the American people still believe in Bush? What more evidence does a nation need that its leader is a bumbling fool (and a dangerous one at that)?"

Kudos to Spike Lee for what I believe will be the film of record on the Katrina disaster. This is my favorite of Mr. Lee's many impressive films. I consider Spike Lee a national treasure.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A legacy for my children..., June 28, 2007
By 
R. Legendre (New Orleans, LA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
I am from New Orleans and I am a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I lost my home as well as 98% of all of my possesions. Luckily, I was able to evacuate to a relative's house in Baton Rouge (about 75 miles west of N.O.), so my family and I were spared the immediate aftermath and the horrific conditions experienced by those who were unable to get out of the city.

Through this film, however, I was able to feel the pain and loss of my neighbors and friends. It was very difficult for me to watch and I broke down and cried several times. New Orleans is my home and will ALWAYS be my home. No matter where I go or end up living (I have relocated and now live about 30 west of N.O.), New Orleans will forever be a part of my soul. If you are not from there, you probably wouldn't understand. It was so damn difficult to see familiar places and people undergoing such a tragedy.

A piece of my heart died on August 29th, 2005 and another piece died when I watched this film, but I HAD to see it. It is important for eveyone to see this film because it raises many questions that have yet to be answered. How can such brutal and barbaric conditions be allowed to continue for so long in one of the richest countries in the world? Why did it take so long to get help? Why was the city so unprepared for such a catastrophe? Why have the problems NOT been solved 2 years after the event?

I still don't know any of the answers.

All I know is that I must own this film. I must have it to show my children one day (my daughter was 2 at the time the storm hit and my 2nd child is on the way) so that they never forget where we came from and the many mistakes our generation made when trying to deal with this crisis. Hopefully, others will show this to their children as well so that they can learn from these mistakes and make sure that something like this never happens again.

The ONLY pet peeve I have with the film (it's a small one) is that it seems to take the point of view of the black, underprivileged portion of the city's population. Yes, these were the majority of those that suffered in the aftermath, but Katrina affected EVERYONE in this region. I felt that the objectivity of the film should have been a bit more balanced.

As for the reviewer who thought this film was funny, I wish you peace and hope that one day your heart will be softened and you will learn to have compassion for your fellow man. Yes, New Orleanians suffered, but we are ALL citizens of the planet Earth. When a man dies, we are all diminished because we are all a part of mankind.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slightly Flawed But Stunning Overall, April 27, 2007
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
As a resident of south Mississippi, I am incredibly frustrated by media that reports "Hurricane Katrina Struck New Orleans." In truth, Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi gulf coast and south Louisiana, visiting upon those areas a thirty foot wall of water. New Orleans, on the edge of the weaker northwest quadrant of the storm, was merely brushed.

It is a point which WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE brings out early: New Orleans received at best a glancing blow and it should have survived. The great disaster which befell the city was not so much natural as man-made. And throughout the documentary's four hour run time, director Spike Lee not only presents a kalidescope of interviews with survivors, he repeatedly returns to the inevitable question: how did it happen?

Much of the answer to that question depends on who you ask. New Orleans has a history of blowing levees, and early in the film several people state flatly that the levees were deliberately blown in an effort to protect the city's weathier districts at the expense of poorer areas. But although director Lee gives the idea play, it soon becomes clear that no such effort was required: it was in fact a mixture of bad design; neglect; an unwillingness by city, state, and federal officials to spend the money; and, most simply, indifference toward the people of New Orleans and indeed Louisiana in general.

WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE is truly devastating in its portrait of a great American city's collapse. Interviews with survivors, achieval footage, and news reports paint a damning portrait of failure at almost every possible level. Most damning is the picture of federal inaction. While people drowned in their attics, President Bush was on vacation. While people collapsed from heat prostration and dehydration Condoleeza Rice bought shoes at an upscale store. The minutes became hours, the hours became days, and the cavalry simply did not arrive.

Spike Lee is a somewhat problematic director, an artist who has the very distinct tendency to interject race issues into scenarios whether such is warranted or not. In this particular instance, however, I believe Lee is on target when the attributes federal inaction in large part to the fact that New Orleans is predominately poor and black. Had he gone further to note the obvious fact that the city is also of the deep South--a region that has typically been ignored by Washington--he would have struck a bull's eye; it is worth pointing out that south Mississippi, which is predominately white, experienced the same federal foot dragging and ridiculous mismanagement.

When all is said and done, WHEN THE LEVEES broke is a stunning but flawed portrait of a horrific disaster that befell a great American city--a city which, as of this date, has yet to begin a significant recovery and which will very likely never again be the New Orleans of legend and song. It's great strength is that it allows the victims to speak for themselves; it's great failure is a tendency to posit race plain and simple as the cause of federal indifference. It was a mighty factor, to be sure, but nothing is ever quite as simple as all that.

The DVD release includes three disks. The film itself offers a commentary by Lee; the third disk consists of bonus material that further elaborates what is indeed an American tragedy. In spite of occasional flaws, I recommend it very strongly.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, October 24, 2007
This review is from: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (DVD)
I purchased this DVD because my son's marching band is doing a show this year based on New Orleans, incorporating the storm and its aftermath. We thought that if they could see some footage of the disaster they might remember the enormity of it and they would be able to better express it in their show. I looked through quite a few documentaries on Katrina. Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke" had a profound effect on me. It was the only one I recommended to the band director for reviewing with the band. Spike Lee talked to real people that let you understand what horrors they went through. The whole piece just felt real, not produced. I have long been an admirer of Spike Lee's work and this is a solid addition to his collection of films. Thought provoking to the point of feeling uncomfortable but also wanting to do something about it.
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When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts
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