Trouble the Water, an Oscar-nominated 2008 documentary that tells the story of Hurricane Katrina from within the eye of the storm, has been shown at festivals and in theaters during the last year. But it gets its TV premiere Thursday night at 8:30 on HBO, and it will likely reach more viewers in one night on the premium pay channel than it did in all previous festival and theatrical showings.

And that's a good thing, because this is a great story told with passion not just about an epic storm, but about a country and a government that didn't have hardly any compassion for many of its victims.


It's inevitable that any documentary about Katrina is going to be compared to Spike Lee's towering 2005 film, When the Levees Broke, so let me quickly say Trouble the Waters does not have its elegiac lyricism or sense of poetry that Lee's does. But it does have something that Lee's film doesn't have -- eyewitness, home-movie footage of the storm arriving and a family fighting for its life -- and that is what makes the film such a special social document.

The home movie footage -- shot by an aspiring rap artist, Kimberly Rivers Roberts, who lived with her husband, Scott, in the lower ninth ward -- is astonishing. Shot the days before, during and immediately after the storm hit, it takes up only about 15 minutes of the overall documentary directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. But it includes images you will never forget.

Capturing a story like this from such a central vantage point is the ideal of citizen journalism. Lessin and Deal then contextualize it in such a way as to make it citizen-history.

Either way, it is gut grabbing stuff.

Watching Roberts, her husband, and others sitting among the rafters in the attic of their home as the waters rise is harrowing. Listening to their matter-of-fact discussion of life-and-death issues is amazing.

"What are we going to do about the dogs?" one of them asks of their two dogs up there is the attic with them.

The other says the dogs' deaths seem inevitable.

Roberts is an indomitable spirit, and that is what ultimately carries and uplifts the film. But be prepared to be angry all over again about George W. Bush and his friend, former FEMA director Michael ("Good job, Brownie") Brown, and all the public trust that was betrayed in the wake of that horrible storm.

(Above: A Zeitgeist Films photo of Kim Rivers Roberts and Scott Roberts)