By Sandra Kraisirideja
“Witness: Katrina” uses footage shot by amateur videographers, news crews, government agencies, storm chasers and local residents who survived the category four hurricane that decimated entire neighborhoods in New Orleans in 2005.
The two-hour documentary will air Aug. 23 to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the disaster that displaced tens of thousands from their homes. “Witness: Katrina” was developed by the same team behind “102 Minutes that Changed America,” the documentary about 9/11 that also relies entirely on amateur footage.
The compelling footage in “Witness: Katrina” puts a human face on the tragic events that took place over a 72 hour period. What’s most impressive about the movie is that the filmmakers were able to create a narrative from all of the footage available to them.
Campbell Scott provides some narration, mostly to note the time, location and strength of the hurricane. Events are told chronologically, which makes the hubris of those who stayed behind to wait out the storm seem all the more incredible.
A mix of amateur videographers serve as the main characters in this tragic story. It seems several of them wanted to film the storm and their experience for family and friends. Since they weren’t aware their footage would be seen by a national audience their reactions feel more genuine and sincere.
The film ends with updates on what happened to them in the months following the hurricane. Surprisingly many of them returned to their neighborhoods to rebuild.
Given the devastation that Katrina caused it’s unnerving to see residents early on in the movie taking the warnings so casually. There’s a sense that these residents have heard the warnings before and believe it won’t be as bad as the reports say. It’s easy to judge them for being cavalier but it doesn’t damper any feelings of sympathy when the full magnitude of Katrina’s destruction is seen.
“Witness: Katrina” is a powerful reminder that despite technological advances, the modern world is still fragile in the face of Mother Nature.