Teaching the Levees

Time Periods: 21st Century, 2001 - Present
Themes: Climate Justice, Environment & Food, Racism & Racial Identity

teachingtheleveesA free downloadable teaching guide for the documentary film, When the Levees Broke.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts is a 2006 documentary film directed by Spike Lee about the devastation of New Orleans, Louisiana due to the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina. It was filmed in late August and early September 2005.  The title is a reference to the blues tune “When the Levee Breaks,” by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

The documentary consists largely of news footage and still photos of Katrina and its aftermath interspersed with interviews. Interviewees throughout the film include politicians, journalists, historians, engineers, and many people from various parts of New Orleans and the surrounding areas who give first hand accounts of their experiences with the levee failures and the aftermath. The first installment opens with a photo and film montage of historic and recent New Orleans scenes with a soundtrack of Louis Armstrong performing Louis Alter’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.” At the end of the last episode is a similar montage with Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans” on the soundtrack.

The online teaching guide is a collaborative effort by the Rockefeller Foundation, HBO, Teachers College, Columbia University, Teachers College Press, and EdLab of Gottesman Libraries.

Another excellent source for interviews and analysis on Hurricane Katrina is Democracy Now!