Stoop Dreams: Kimberly and Scott stay optimistic despite Katrina?s devastation.

Spike Lee might have detailed everything that went wrong in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in his exhaustive four-hour miniseries, 2006’s When the Levees Broke, but you need watch only a few seconds of Trouble the Water to understand the most wrenching issue: Once scene features a series of 911 calls, most achingly from a polite but clearly terrified woman saying she can’t get out of her flooding attic, as the screen shows a street corner that’s turned into an ocean. “The police are not coming out until the weather conditions get better,” the operator says. Pause. “So I’m gonna die.” The remark goes unanswered. A chunk of the footage in Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s powerful and angering documentary is provided by aspiring rapper and Ninth Ward resident Kimberly Rivers Roberts, who sensed Katrina was going to be a “bad chick” but didn’t have money to leave. So she and her husband, Scott, filmed their experience from just before the storm hit, when the New Orleans sky was still blue. Kimberly, 24, may not be Werner Herzog; her camerawork is Blair Witch shaky and her commentary is often gangsta crude. But there’s no denying her boast that compared to all the hurricane coverage by network news, “Nobody got what I got.” The footage is singular, not only of the storm’s force but of what it was like to be hunkered down in a dark attic with as many people as the space could hold. Afterward, the directors take over but stick with the Roberts family as they wander their destroyed neighborhood, searching for the dead and wondering why, two weeks later, the National Guard still hasn’t arrived. (Answer: Many of Louisiana’s guardsmen were in Iraq, and President Bush “completely disagree[d]” with the idea of redeploying them for Katrina relief.) The film touches on the relief efforts’ many missteps and doesn’t shy away from racial issues, opening with a sound bite of Chris Matthews asking if our leaders’ reaction would have been the same were the victims all white and, later, showing a black Tennessee woman saying, “If you don’t have money, if you don’t have status, you don’t have a government.” What further elevates Trouble the Water above other Katrina-themed works is an astonishing hopefulness: The Roberts family, constantly helping others, maintains both a realistic and positive perspective on their situation, with Kimberly in particular showing remarkable resilience. At one point, she performs a rap about her life that’s inspiring—and not half-bad. As she says, “I can’t do nothing [now] but go up.”