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

Release Date: August 16th, 2006
Directed by: Spike Lee
Music by: Terence Blanchard

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, 255 Minutes


When the Levees Broke is a four-part documentary film series that aired on HBO. It follows the struggle of the people of New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina.

The film is comprised of interviews with dozens of people talking about the event and the effects of the event in their own words. Spike Lee, the director and interviewer, rarely even chimes in and thus, allows the people to tell their story honestly and passionately.

The film, broken into four segments, is quite long but it is an amazing and engaging documentary. It goes on to show that public perception of the events surrounding this tragedy are false and lays out, from first-person experience, how the citizens of New Orleans were trapped, had no one to turn to and how they lost everything. It also goes on to show the heroes who stepped up and what they did.

On the positive side, it shows how the people of New Orleans, still living in the aftermath, are attempting to rebuild their lives and move forward. It follows those who stayed, those who left and those who went back.

The film also interviews Sean Penn, who was a true hero for the fact that he showed up in New Orleans almost immediately after the storm and did everything he could to help in any way possible. Before this film, I didn’t realize how much Penn did for the people of New Orleans and I don’t think he really wanted credit for anything. He was just a man with the means to do something and he didn’t hesitate.

Spike Lee put together a great documentary here. It is upsetting and hard to watch at times because of the true agony these people went through but it is a beautiful film that is brutally honest and true to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Rating: 9/10