Editor's Note: Each week Joe Leydon explores interesting and/or idiosyncratic movies outside of the Hollywood mainstream – be they in massive megaplexes or much smaller venues - in a column called "Mondo Cinema."
Trouble the Water – the Oscar-nominated documentary returning this weekend to 14 Pews – reaffirms the immutable truth of the gospel according to Mick Jagger: Sometimes, when you can’t get what you want, you really do get what you need.
Consider the case of filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Dean, veteran documentarians who had worked with Michael Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11. The couple journeyed to Alexandria, La., in September 2005, intent on shooting a movie about Louisiana National Guardsmen, newly redeployed from Iraq, who had been assigned to restore order in post-Katrina New Orleans. But when the Guard commanders declined to cooperate, they were ready to go home — until they met a human dynamo named Kimberly Rivers.
Trouble the Water captures that fortuitous first meeting, when Kimberly approached the professional filmmakers with her amateur footage, promising: “This needs to be worldwide. Ain’t nobody got what I got.”
An aspiring rapper and self-described “street hustler,” Kimberly had been living with her husband, Scott Roberts, in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina slammed into her city. Like many other residents of their predominantly African-American neighborhood, they lacked the wherewithal to evacuate, so they stayed put.
At first, Kimberly was happy to pass the time by playing the role of “interviewer” with her recently purchased Sony camcorder, asking relatives and neighbors how they would ride the storm. But then the rains came. And the levees broke. Kimberly and Scott, along with a handful of others, wound up warily watching from their attic while raging waters flooded the streets — to the point of submerging stop signs — outside their home.
And throughout it all, Kimberly continued to operate her camcorder, instinctively capturing indelible images that she would later show Lessin and Dean when, several says later in Alexandria, she fortuitously met them in a Red Cross shelter.
“When she came up to us and said she had the footage ‘back at the house,’” co-director Dean recalled when he and Lessin visited H-Town in 2008, “I was a little confused at first. And I thought, ‘Well, how could she have a house here in Alexandria?’ But it turned out that she was talking about her uncle’s trailer, where she and Scott were staying. So we went back with them and got to know them a little bit better. And we didn’t really look at her footage for a couple of days.
“But the thing is, we didn’t feel we really needed to. Because they were compelling enough with the stories they were telling.”
Trouble the Water actually captures that fortuitous first meeting, when Kimberly – a large, swaggering 24-year-old woman with a disarmingly soft smile – approached the professional filmmakers with her amateur footage, promising: “This needs to be worldwide. Ain’t nobody got what I got.”
Lessin and Dean quickly realized just how right she was.
“When we finally did see it,” Lessin said, “Kimberly showed it to us on her camcorder, so we had to look at it through the viewfinder. And we were blown away."
“And even then,” Dean added, “it was like she was still pitching it. She kept wanting to hit the fast-forward, saying, ‘Let me show you this part. Let me show you that part.’ And we had to say, ‘No! No! You’re gonna ruin the tape.’ And, yeah, we were really stunned by what we saw. It was very clearly not like anything we’d seen on television. And her voice, and her real-time description of what she was seeing, was just as powerful as the images themselves.
“That’s when we decided to go back to New Orleans with her and Scott, and make them the focus of our film.
Lessin and Deal adroitly use Kimberly’s stunning footage as a kind of thematic thread while crafting a nonfiction narrative charged with alternating currents of outage and regeneration, tragedy and transcendence, while charting the frustratingly slow post-Katrina recovery process in The Big Easy. Predictably, Trouble the Water is in many ways an angry film. And yet it ends – almost miraculously — on a note of triumph. You can see for yourself when the documentary screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Aug. 29 at 14 Pews.
The lovely and talented Mélanie Laurent – best known as the vengeful femme fatale of Inglourious Basterds – plays an X-ray technician who tries to analyze her unsatisfying love life while dealing with her overbearing dad’s health issues in Jennifer Devoldère’s The Day I Saw Your Heart, a seriocomic French import having its H-Town premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Aug. 30, and 5 p.m. Sunday, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Two soccer-playing siblings on the verge of going pro must cope with the violent death of their father in Marcel Rasquin’s Hermano.
Two soccer-playing siblings on the verge of going pro must cope with the violent death of their father in Marcel Rasquin’s Hermano, a Venezuelan drama opening Friday at the AMC Studio 30. At the same location: Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, a bubbly Bollywood romantic comedy about romantically attracted fortysomethings that, judging from its raucous coming-attractions trailer, appears at least partially inspired by the US sitcom Mike & Molly.
Love is strange
With 2 Days in New York, French multi-hyphenate Julie Delpy attempts to make lightning strike twice by fashioning a sequel to 2 Days in Paris, her 2007 debut feature that was acclaimed by many people a witty Woody Allenesque romantic comedy. (Not by me, you understand, but by many other people.)
The new flick reintroduces Marion (director and co-writer Delpy) a few years after her breakup with the neurotic boyfriend (Adam Goldberg) who loomed large in the previous film. She’s living in New York, raising the child she and her ex had at some point between the two movies, and sharing an apartment with another single parent, Mingus, a journalist and radio host played by Chris Rock. Yes, that Chris Rock.
(Hey, if the dude can direct, co-write and star in a remake of an Eric Rohmer movie, who’s to say he can’t handle the demands of a French-flavored, American-set rom-com?)
2 Days in New York opens Friday at the Sundance Cinema, which also will be hosting a one-week engagement of Dark Horse, a black comedy about the unlikely romance of two thirysomethings (Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair) mired in arrested adolescence. It’s written and directed by Todd Solondz, who also gave us Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse, so I wouldn’t count on too much happily-ever-aftering here.
(Not just) Kid stuff
I Can Do Anything! – an ambitious amalgam of animated shorts and live performance – will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday at Aurora Picture Show. The free-admission program, according to an Aurora spokesperson, “celebrates children who truly can do anything because they still know how to dream.”
Specifically, the program will include a concert by the Girls Rock Camp of Houston All-Star Band, and a collection of animated shorts about youth empowerment produced by Texas filmmakers and curated by Sarah Gish.