“If God Is Willing & Da Creek Don’t Rise,” Spike Lee’s latest HBO film, documents New Orleans life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the new troubles brought on by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The four-hour, two-part documentary is a follow-up to Lee’s award winning 2006 film “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts.”
The film begins with a triumphant air in the midst of the New Orleans Saints 2010 Superbowl victory. The Who Dat Nation is in good spirits and the whole city seems to take a break from rebuilding to do what New Orleans is best known for—party. The bead throwing and line dancing are short lived though as Lee talks to dozens of New Orleans residents about their triumphs and tragedies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
In addition to stories from familiar faces like former mayor Ray Nagin and Phyllis Montana LeBlanc (Desiree on HBO’s “Treme” and stand out interviewee from Lee’s 2006 documentary), viewers also get heart wrenching and shocking details about events that barely got national news coverage.
A young mother tells of her hurt and anger at having to bury her five-year-old who drowned during the storm. Legal experts recount astounding acts of corruption and even murder perpetrated by New Orleans police officers. A young boy smiles at the memory of his 25-year-old father who was killed by a 15-year-old. These stories combined with images of severe neglect, pain and death paint a sobering picture of the Big Easy. Not without laughter though. The tales and colorful language of some of the interviewees provide levity for an otherwise somber documentary.
“We were done filming by the time the BP disaster happened. That whole fourth hour had to be re-worked,” noted Lee at roundtable discussion at HBO headquarters. “We started filming during the Superbowl. We had no idea that was going to happen in April.”
The fourth hour is primarily dedicated to the immediate impact of the BP oil spill and frightening predictions from experts and activists about the long-term consequences of the incident. Cameras roll as a fisherman and his crew suck up barrels of oil from the surface of the water. The oil is so thick it looks like fudge. Wildlife and the natural habitats that support wildlife are dying at alarming rates. Scientists predict that this year’s storms could be as bad or worse than the storms in 2005, which means that the oil and dispersant in the Gulf could end up in water supplies and in the eyes, mouths and throats of Gulf residents.
Lee expressed his disbelief that 75 percent of the oil has been removed as a recent government report stated. “There’s no question who is in charge. BP told the Coast Guard which boats could come in those waters. BP told the FAA which planes could fly over the area. When the EPA told BP not to use a particular dispersant, BP sent a letter back basically saying ‘We’re going to use that dispersant anyway.’”
Part one of “If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise” airs August 23 on HBO at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. Part two airs on August 24 at 9:00 p.m..