Press Room

Thousand Roads Podcast: interview with Tia Lessin & Carl Deal
Tom Casciato

Tia Lessin and Carl Deal are filmmaking partners whose careers have run the gamut from directing their Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning Trouble The Water about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, to producing several of Michael Moore’s films, and more. Tia also directed, with Emma Pildes, 2022’s Emmy Award-winning The Janes, about women providing abortion care in pre-Roe v. Wade Chicago. Tia started out as a labor organizer and an activist. And while Carl has an activist background as well, he also attended Columbia University Journalism School. We talk about how journalism and activism play out in their filmmaking, the creative use of stock footage, and documentary ethics.

At Sundance, Two Films Look at Abortion and the Jane Collective
Nicole Sperling

Nicole Sperling, January 20, 2022, New York Times.

The makers of “The Janes” hope those with differing views will allow themselves a look at life before Roe v. Wade. “This is a glimpse at history; I don’t think it’s an advocacy film,” said Tia Lessin, who directed with Emma Pildes, whose father used to be married to Arcana. Arcana’s son, Daniel, and Pildes are producers on the film. Lessin added, “It’s a real life story about what happened and the lengths that women went to to have abortions and to enable other women to have abortions.”

‘Citizen Koch’ movie review
Michael O-Sullivan, The Washington Post

If you have a shred of idealism left, it’s hard to watch “Citizen Koch” without a mounting sense of despair and outrage over the influence that money has come to wield over modern elections. After watching the film, however, it’s reassuring to remember that sometimes — as in the case of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent primary defeat by a poorly funded dark horse — the little guy with an empty wallet can still win.

Tim Sika, President of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle review of “Citizen Koch”
KGO ABC Radio, San Francisco

“…Citizen Koch is just as powerful [as Trouble the Water] and in some ways more incendiary and dangerous because it’s a virtual expose of what’s become of US politics and the influence of big big money on election campaigns …the movie just takes a hold of your throat and doesn’t let go for its 85 minute running time… It’s a raging, angry, rip-roaring, filled-with-righteous-fury-and-indignation indictment of big money in the U.S. political process, and so far, the best documentary of the year…maybe this documentary will finally get people again to take to the streets and just say “enough of this nonsense already, I’ve had it.”

‘Citizen Koch’ documentary on Wisconsin protests to open in June

More than a year after it played at the Wisconsin Film Festival, the documentary “Citizen Koch” will return to Madison theaters. The documentary, which looks at the effect of so-called “dark money” contributions in politics, and especially on politics in Wisconsin, will open in New York in June 6. Its distributor, Variance Films, said the film will travel to several cities from there, including opening in Madison sometime in June.

No-Holds Barred “Trouble the Water” Ask What it Means to be An American, Ya Heard Me?
Scooter & Hum,

It took three long years to turn incredible footage shot from a flooding attic in the besieged Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans into a searing social commentary on what happens when a government turns its back on its own people. It took three long years to finally find the lens that helped turn conversation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from pity to accountability. It took three long years for the floodwaters of Katrina to finally subside enough to unearth “Trouble the Water” amidst the Big Easy’s forgotten, abused and destroyed debris.

Amateur footage of Katrina gives Trouble the Water its grim reality
Joe Leydon, The Houston Chronicle

Talk about being in the wrong place at the right time: Kimberly Rivers Roberts, an aspiring rapper and self-described “street hustler” living in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, had just recently purchased a Sony camcorder in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina slammed into her city.

Like too many other residents of their predominantly African-American neighborhood, Kimberly and her husband, Scott Roberts, lacked the wherewithal to evacuate, so they stayed put. At first, Kimberly was happy to play the part of “interviewer,” pointing her camcorder at relatives and neighbors while asking how they would ride the storm. But then the rains came. Kimberly and Scott, along with a handful of others, wound up warily watching from their attic while waters from breached levees flooded the streets – to the point of submerging stop signs – outside their home. And throughout it all, Kimberly continued to operate her camcorder, instinctively capturing indelible images that are the heart of a powerful new movie aptly titled Trouble the Water.

Talk about getting what you need when you can’t get what you want: Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, veteran documentarians who had worked with Michael Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11, journeyed to Alexandria, La., in September 2005, hoping to make a movie about Louisiana National Guardsmen, newly redeployed from Iraq, who were charged with restoring order to post-Katrina New Orleans. But military officials proved uncooperative, and the documentarians were ready to go home when they ran into Kimberly and Scott Roberts at a Red Cross shelter.

“Trouble the Water” captures Katrina through a survivor’s point of view
John Hartl Special to The Seattle Times

One of the year’s most acclaimed nonfiction films, “Trouble the Water” benefits from a uniquely personal approach to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. More than most documentaries, this mosaiclike movie is made up of many pieces, and it’s considerably more than the sum of those parts. The veteran directors, Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, started off in one direction, emphasizing Louisiana’s National Guard and other stories; in the end, they shot about 200 hours of material.

Award-winning Katrina documentary treks from New Orleans to Memphis
John Beifuss, Memphis Commercial-Appeal

I’m afraid that Hurricane Katrina ranks alongside the so-called War on Terror as a subject that weary Americans want to pretend to forget.

But “Trouble the Water” shouldn’t be missed. This documentary – inspired by the remarkable home-movie footage of Ninth Ward resident Kimberly Rivers Roberts, and partly shot in Memphis – is a tribute to human resilience and adaptability. The movie is certainly political (President Bush is shown muttering platitudes at the appropriately named El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club in Phoenix while the storm batters New Orleans), but it’s also existential: It chronicles a struggle to survive that transcends bureaucratic incompetence and speaks to the very nature of living in a hostile or at least indifferent and unknowable natural world, even in the 21st century.

Storm Warnings
David Denby, The New Yorker

“Trouble the Water,” along with Spike Lee’s extraordinary four-hour epic, “When the Levees Broke,” remains one of the most eloquent records we have of a tragedy that brought out some of the most impressively alive men and women in New Orleans.

‘Trouble the Water’: 4 stars!—Katrina gets a good, deep look from people who were there
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal revisit the American tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall a little more than three years ago. Their profoundly humanistic movie won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it does something remarkable: It sells you on American resilience even as it reminds you, in unassailably clear-eyed fashion, that America’s stewards bungled the human response to a natural disaster so badly, with such covert and overt racism guiding the decisions made and avoided, you cannot quite believe the breadth of the damage.

Trouble the Water (4 Stars)
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

As I write, the hellstorm Ike is battering Texas. I hear of evacuation buses, National Guard troops, emergency supplies, contraflow, Red Cross volunteers, helicopter rescues. It is a different world from the world after Katrina hit New Orleans. Yes, there were noble rescue efforts, but too little and too late, and without enough urgency on the part of the federal (“You’re doin’ a great job, Brownie!”) government.

Trouble the Water (4 stars)
John Anderson, Newsday

The how-we-lost-our-home movies taken by New Orleans native Kimberly Roberts during Hurricane Katrina are the spine of “Trouble the Water,” a film that’s as harrowing for what Mother Nature can do as for what the U.S. government can’t. Or won’t. Shot predominantly from the attic of their rapidly submerging house during the worst of the storm, Roberts’ visual record gives us a palpable sense of impending doom. But it’s only after the Robertses – in the company of filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal – return to their battered city their crime-ridden neighborhood that the true, sustained and still-unresolved damage of Katrina becomes so terribly clear.

Review: ‘Trouble the Water’
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“Trouble the Water,” a stirring documentary on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, is more than a keenly dramatic look at how this country treats the poor and dispossessed. It’s also a film that was hijacked by its subjects. They saw an opportunity, they took it, and the grand jury prize at Sundance was the result.

‘Trouble the Water’: A Firsthand Account of Hurricane Katrina
S. James Snyder, New York Sun

Unlike Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke,” which attempted to reconstruct the events and deconstruct their larger meaning, “Trouble the Water” is less a postmortem than a potent dose of here-and-now. It is a first-person, real-time documentary, built not from archival news footage (though some does appear) but from amateur digital video captured on the streets of New Orleans by the subject of the film, Kim Rivers Roberts. One is hardly surprised to read reports of spontaneous emotional outbursts from the first audiences to see the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

Surviving Katrina With a Big Personality and a Video Camera
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Ms. Roberts is such a charismatic figure that she might have overwhelmed this movie. But Mr. Deal and Ms. Lessin have the big picture in mind, not just a personal portrait. Working with the editors T. Woody Richman and Mary Lampson, they have created an ingeniously fluid narrative structure that, when combined with Ms. Roberts’s visuals, news material and their own original 16-millimeter film footage, ebbs and flows like great drama.

Soul Survivors
Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

And Lessin and Deal know that the best documentaries reveal politics through personalities. In the gritty, buoyant Kim they found a person who symbolized both the lower depths of urban life and the resilience, when faced with an impossible challenge, to rise to a level higher than flood tide. Maybe Kim, Scott and their crew were no angels before Katrina, but that doesn’t matter–because in Trouble the Water, we see the lives of the saints.

Trouble the water
Mina Hochberg, amNew York movie critic

When the gusts of Hurricane Katrina started blowing and the news reports began dominating the airwaves, Kimberly Roberts, a local rap artist who was living in the Ninth Ward with her husband, Scott, picked up her video camera and documented the before, during and after of the storm, speaking to neighbors and giving a platform for their tribulations. “Trouble the Water,” directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, tells the Roberts’ story, relying heavily on their captivating firsthand footage.

Trouble the Water
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

A star is born. Her name is Kimberly Rivers Roberts. Your never heard of her. Not yet. Roberts didn’t write or direct Trouble the Water, the behind-the-camera artistry in this wallop of a movie is handled by the extraordinary team of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. Trouble the Water is a documentary, an unforgettable one…

Trouble the Water
Candace L., okayplayer

The stories of outrage are innumerable. The call to 9-1-1 alone is enough to make you want to march on Washington again. Of all the bad news one can have delivered to them, imagine telling an emergency operator you’re drowning in your attic and her response being silence. This person, your only resource to help, on rote reads from a script that no longer serves any purpose, tells you that no rescue team will be sent. Yet Trouble the Water is not a list of grievances put to film. It is a heroic epic showing you what the human spirit can do when put to the test.

Katrina, Stark and Surreal, in Trouble the Water
Jim Ridley, Village Voice

Hurricane Katrina may have driven off a large segment of New Orleans’ African-American population. But in one sense the deadly storm was a uniter, not a divider: The devil wind brought together much of the country in contempt of the Bush administration’s loose definition of humanitarian aid. Fresh as a slap, the outrage of Katrina’s mishandling comes flooding back in Trouble the Water, a documentary account so starkly surreal that at times it seems wrought from another century’s folklore.

Trouble the Water (A+) (Five Stars)
Cole Smithey

Winner of the jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, “Trouble the Water” is a hybrid documentary–part amateur personalized reportage and to a lesser degree contextualized narrative–that shows the devastating effect of Hurricane Katrina and the malicious neglect performed by the U.S. Government against the storm’s survivors.

Voice, Eyes and Camera of Katrina Survivors
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“…the superb documentary “Trouble the Water,” about Hurricane Katrina and its equally calamitous aftermath. One of the best American documentaries in recent memory, the film was directed and produced by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, a couple of New Yorkers who, like much of the rest of the world, were watching television in horror in 2005 as the natural disaster was quickly followed by a human one…”

Review, 4 Stars
Sean P. Means, The Salt Lake Tribune

This astonishing documentary uses camcorder footage like “Cloverfield,”but the monster is real: Hurricane Katrina and the uncaring governmentresponse that followed. Directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin made thefind of the century when they met Kimberly and Scott Roberts, whorecorded their experience in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. TheRoberts’ experiences, blended with footage of the couple’s journey awayfrom New Orleans and back, are an emotional testament to survival andhope.

Sundance Awards: Mine
Peter Travers,

“. . . this indelible portrait of New Orleans before, during and after Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of a force of nature named Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott Roberts. Gifted filmmkers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal stick it to our absent government and in Kim – who raps her feelings in a voice that demands and deserves a record contract – they have found a human face to put on a national tragedy. Superb in every department.”

The best of Sundance
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

“The romping, stomping, electrified-house vibe at the premiere of this New Orleans documentary was one thing…a transformative story about passion, resilience and heroism among the poorest residents of America’s most downtrodden city.”

Trouble the Water (Review + Background Buzz)
Nathaniel Rogers,

In the age of reality TV, where no live unscripted footage ever comes across as truly genuine but performed as “ideas” of reality, Trouble the Water and its brutally intimate journey of two survivors feels rather bracing. It’s a reminder that camcorders are not just toys. And telling your story to the camera is not just exhibitionism. These pervasive American objects and habits can record the truth of experience just as well they can record people lip-synching to pop songs for YouTube. Sometimes they can capture history as it is lived. Trouble in Water is still not reality per se. You’re aware that the footage you’re watching has been edited and scored, and decisions have been made in the telling. But I’ll be damned if Kimberly (Black Kold Madina!), your expressive guide, isn’t keeping it real . . .

At Sundance: Documentaries Take the Day
Emily Poenisch, Vanity Fair

. . . it was a documentary filmed a little closer to home that delivered on a truly exceptional level. Trouble the Water was directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal and tells the extraordinary story of Kimberly and Scott Rivers, a couple living in the 9th Ward who rescued a large number of fellow residents when Hurricane Katrina struck . . .

Beyond the Multiplex: Heroes of Katrina, ghost of ‘Gonzo’
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

“. . . one of those electrifying, emotional, unforgettable experiences that captures Sundance at its very best, . . . Captures a tale of thrilling human drama, terrible tragedy and unbelievable heroism among some of America’s most stigmatized and downtrodden people . . . No human being I can imagine could watch “Trouble the Water” and not be overwhelmed by grief and joy, and humbled by one’s sudden awareness of one’s own prejudices about the lives, passions and dreams of poor people.”

Reborn, In Film and In Life
David Carr,

Kimberly Rivers, the amazing woman at the heart of “Trouble theWaters,” a documentary about Katrina that has been a huge hit, took abit of time out from Sundance to head down to Salt Lake City and givebirth gave birth to Skyy Kaylen Rivers Roberts, 7 lb, 1 oz. at 6:15this morning. New snow on the mountain and new life in our midst. It’sa lovely day in Park City.

Sundance: ‘Trouble’ moves
Tatiana Siegel,

Hurricane Katrina documentary “Trouble the Water” drew a sustained standing ovation following its world premiere Sunday afternoon. The Sundance in-competition pic, which was directed and produced by longtime Michael Moore collaborators Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, featured harrowing footage shot during the storm by 9th Ward resident Kimberly Rivers Roberts (think a real-life version of “Cloverfield” with Katrina subbing for the destructive monster).

Roberts, who was on hand with husband Scott Roberts, told the enthusiastic audience that she bought the camera for $20 about a week before the mammoth storm. “The purpose of this film is to let people know how it really happened,” she said. Exec producer Danny Glover, who also fielded post-screening questions from a still full house, said “We cannot let New Orleans become a template for all inner cities in this country”