I cannot think of a more important documentary I've seen in the last ten years than either Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke or Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, both of which I have seen this week. I refuse to choose which one is more important. If you ask me to recommend just one, I would still say you have to see both. It would be a proverbial Sophie's Choice: you cannot make me choose. You need to see both if you have not already.
Lee's documentary is long, but it packed with wrenching personal narratives and contextual knowledge that explains so much about New Orleans and the government's injustices to her citizens. You'll find out that the rumors that levees had been blown up are based on factual events that occurred in past hurricanes and that those events were carried forward in oral histories after explosions were heard during Katrina. You'll learn that President Lyndon Johnson not only immediately responded to New Orleans' last catastrophic hurricane in 1965, but he stood in flooded neighborhoods with nothing else but a flashlight shouting to let people know he was right there with them. You'll cry, if you have a heart, as jazz musician Terence Blanchard walks through his old neighborhood dolefully playing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" on his horn and as he helps his mother tearfully cope with the tragedy of facing her destroyed home for the first time. Lee does a masterful job of conveying the complex dynamics of the levee breach, its aftermath, and the peoples' lives that flood waters--with some help from FEMA--destroyed.
Gore's documentary sets the record straight on global warming and is just as personal as When the Levee's Broke, but its focus is more on how Gore's own life has been intertwined with the growing environmental crisis we all face. We are troubled enough to learn that the CO2 levels, polar ice melts, and heat waves surpass anything we've seen since records were kept; and, in fact, the data from those who study glacier core samples indicate that life on earth has not faced such a dire CO2 and temperature situation in 600,000 years. But to learn that there are practically no objections in scientific journals on global warming while the agreement in the mainstream media hovers around 50% is unnerving. The scenes of progressive melt of glaciers around the world are just as problematic to me as the pictures of devastation in New Orleans (and Gore makes the connection between the events himself). Where I wept during Lee's film for the innocent children of others who needlessly died in New Orleans, I wept for my own children after watching Gore's film; and I left resolved to do my part to make this a better world for them.
So, if you asked me which film I would recommend if you could only see one of them, I would tell you not to present me with a false choice and you should make every effort to see both. For those who've seen them, what do you think?