Five years after Hurricane Katrina, TV reminds us of its horror and impact

Five years ago today, hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The results of that are well-documented, but now, even five years later, it’s particularly horrifying to watch footage from those early days. Of the many retrospectives, two stand out.

First is Spike Lee’s follow-up to his incredible 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts. (If you haven’t seen that, well, get the DVD.) It’s called If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, and it airs in four hours over two parts that also include the impact of the BP oil spill on residents of the Gulf Coast. The filmmaker returns to New Orleans to see what’s happened since, and it’s not exactly heartwarming.

As The New York Times’ Mike Hale wrote, Levees “was a thrilling achievement: both intimate and magisterial, angry and eloquent, an indictment and a testament, it represented a high point in the career of its director, Spike Lee,” but the new film “is, perhaps inevitably, a less powerful work than ‘When the Levees Broke,’ more diffuse in its storytelling and more uncertain in its point of view.”

Here’s its trailer:

Second is NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ special Hurricane Katrina: the First Five Days, which first aired last weekend as part of Dateline and involves reflection even as it transports us back five years. You can watch it online for free, and it repeats today on MSNBC at 3 p.m. ET. Like his 2005 special, the special is filtered through Brian Williams’ memories as a journalist, and he and NBC’s cameras are a good guide to the horror that unfolded.

As Williams told the St. Petersburg Times’ Eric Deggans, “I can’t promise viewers a delightful romp. This is not going to be like sitting down and watching Entourage. This takes an emotional investment. … I just find that especially in light what’s being asked of the people of Louisiana and Florida and Mississippi, after this oil spill; How much suffering can one region of this country bear? I think we’ve gotta go back and touch that third rail, just briefly. Remember how we felt about our government. And about each other.”

Here’s the first part of it:

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.