WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS is a Spike Lee Film and a 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks Production. Directed and produced by Spike Lee; producer and supervising editor, Sam Pollard; cinematography, Cliff Charles; editors, Geta Gandbhir and Nancy Novack; composer, Terence Blanchard; line producer, Butch Robinson. For HBO: supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins. The film is structured in four acts, each dealing with a different aspect of the events that preceded and followed Katrina’s catastrophic passage through New Orleans.
As the world watched in horror, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Like many who watched the unfolding drama on television news, director Spike Lee was shocked not only by the scale of the disaster, but by the slow, inept and disorganized response of the emergency and recovery effort. Lee was moved to document this modern American tragedy, a morality play witnessed by people all around the world.
Three months after Katrina struck, Lee, cameraman Cliff Charles and a small crew made the first of eight trips to New Orleans to conduct interviews and shoot footage for the film. With so many people affected, Lee had a wide range of subjects and opinions to choose from. “Spike wanted to offer multiple points of view,” says his longtime editor, Sam Pollard. “He needed to represent the voices from the community, the different levels of government, activists and the celebrity element to provide a balanced take on the issues facing New Orleans.”
Lee and his team selected close to 100 people from diverse backgrounds and representing a wide range of opinions to interview, including Governor Kathleen Blanco; Mayor Ray Nagin; residents Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, Kimberly Polk, Shelton “Shakespeare” Alexander and Rev. Williams; activists Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte; CNN’s Soledad O’Brien; and musicians Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Kanye West.