By Amy Obarski
Independent documentary filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal visited Ithaca College to screen their film, Trouble the Water, on Sept. 15, 2009. The documentary was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at Sundance in 2008. The film addresses the racial and economic issues surrounding the Hurricane Katrina, and incorporates home video footage by two New Orleans residents Kimberly and Scott.
Buzzsaw: Where are you from and how did it feel to make a film about a place that you’re not directly connected to?
Tia Lessin: My mother was born in Poland, she was a refugee from Nazi Germany and my grandfather was a survivor of Auswitz, so I’m from a family of survivors, which you know, made me all the more connected to the survival of Kimberley and Scott [the film’s protagonists] and their community.
B: How many hours of footage did you shoot, and how many hours did Kim and Scott give you?
Carl Deal: Kimberley shot on a long-play high-8 tape. She had maybe 90 minutes of footage all together, from the day before and the morning of. It was within an hour or two of the levees breaking that her battery died, so what you see in the film of the actual storm footage, is just about 7 minutes of material.
TL: And we shot another 200 hours including over 100 hours of news footage that we sifted through.
B: Was that archival footage hard to acquire? Were people tentative to give it to you?
CD: News footage? Um, well no. There’s easy access to media in this country. Consumption isn’t the problem, it’s the content. So we pulled the material from a lot of different sources.
B: How did you run into Kim and Scott?
TL: Really, the original stories of the people we were casting for and looking to talk to were the National Guard soldiers who had returned from Baghdad that week and whose own homes were under water.
The army shut down our access to these men and women. We walked over to the Red Cross shelter and just by happen-stance, Kimberley and Scott had seen us. They were looking for a news crew to tell their story to and they came upon us. There were a number of other characters that we followed, but Kimberley and Scott’s story rose to the top.
B: Do you think, through your film, the government and the people who watch it are going to be more aware to prioritize domestic issues versus foreign issues, and will that take place during this administration?
CD: That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a little film like ours. We hope that people feel impacted and changed in some way, by the experience of watching the movie. We took the film to the Democratic National Convention and to the Republican National Convention to screen for delegates of both. It’s an emotional story and we’d love to see it translate into policy change.
B: What would you say that people who see your film could do in response to the tragedy on a small level or on a larger one?
TL: Go to our website, www.troublethewaterfilm.com. There are organizations working there along the gulf coast and throughout the country on issues related to the film. Write a letter to Congress. There’s a way you can do that through our website demanding they take action along the gulf coast.
And finally, there’s a great organization here that a woman told me about last night that, it’s called “Love Knows No Bounds”, and they organize material aide in the form of furniture and appliances and household goods for the 7th Ward of New Orleans.
B: Are you still in contact with Kim and Scott today? And what are they up to?
CD: Yes. Kimberley and Scott are very busy these days in New Orleans. They run a record company called Born Hustler Records, and they have a non-profit organization that they’re running, which is designed to provide services for people who are recovering from drug-addiction. They’re also traveling around, talking about the issues in the film.
B: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like people to know about?
TL: Absolutely, we’re just hitting the road with a couple new productions. We just finished working on the new Michael Moore film, Capitalism: A Love Story, and we’re in production on our next two films.
CD: One is immigration themed.
B: Are you strictly documentary filmmakers, or do you think you’d like to branch out into more narrative films?
TL: You know, I think the only difference between fiction and non-fiction is some of the skills you bring to bear. We would love to write a screenplay, and that might be in the offing. We’ll see.
Amy Obarski is a freshman cinema and photography major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.