New York Times – The Angry Flood and the Stories in Its Wake

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The Angry Flood and the Stories in Its Wake
Published: August 15, 2008

It did not help the emerging genre of Hurricane Katrina cinema that the first responder appeared in many ways to have the last word. When Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” had its premiere on HBO in August 2006, just a year after the hurricane landed, it had the authority of a definitive history. It was filled with convulsive sorrow and concentrated fury, and it made clear that Katrina was not just a natural disaster but also a moral and political one.

Relatively few Katrina movies have reached the screen since then. Which is not to say that relatively few have been made. There is by now a rich, although unheralded subgenre of independent films — shorts and features, ranging from avant-garde tone poem to vérité docudrama — dealing with Katrina and its aftermath.


Standing apart from the other Katrina movies, Benh Zeitlin’s “Glory at Sea,” a 25-minute film that screened at South by Southwest, displaces the tragedy to the realm of myth even as it evokes the celebratory rituals of New Orleans as it used to be. In this exuberant fantasy, a ragtag band of storm survivors build a boat from materials found on the streets — car parts, a bed, a bathtub — and set sail in the hopes of reuniting with their loved ones at the bottom of the ocean.

Mr. Zeitlin said the giddy communal spirit of the story carried over into the production. “A community really did form around the excitement and madness of building a boat out of Katrina trash and sailing it out into Lake Pontchartrain,” he said.

“Glory at Sea” derives a special poignancy from its site-specific particulars, but in its folkloric expansiveness, the film also transcends the realities of Katrina. “It’s about how we can respond to tragedy with love, and hope, and total insanity,” Mr. Zeitlin said. “And that emotion, I hope, translates universally.”