Academy Award-nominated director Spike Lee (the guiding force behind the critically acclaimed documentary 4 Little Girls) turns to nonfiction filmmaking once again with the heart-wrenching marathon work When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, produced by Lee's Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks and originally screened on HBO. In four "acts" of approximately one hour each, Lee examines the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the late summer of 2005 and the incorrigible response to the catastrophe from U.S. government agencies. The filmmaker then evaluates the overwhelming measures that must be taken for the area to rebound and recover fully, demonstrating time and again that this seems an unlikely prospect in the immediate future. Act One covers the events that immediately preceded Katrina's onslaught of horror, with an in-depth exploration of the Bush administration and FEMA's joint failures to understand the potential calamity at hand. Lee picks up this subtopic again and makes it the central focus of Act Two, which expands into a dissection of the government agencies' failure to respond to the crisis with adequate measures; time and again, the director fills his frame, in this segment, with images and indications of naked human indifference. Act Three plunges headfirst into the toll taken by the hurricane on the lives of Louisiana residents, with protracted glimpses of the destruction wrought. And finally, the film wraps with Act Four, where Lee conducts more recent interviews with experts who question the soundness of the New Orleans levee system in the face of future catastrophes. A number of celebrities and public figures also appear on camera to provide commentary throughout the work, including New Orleans mayor Roy Nagin, actor, singer and social activist Harry Belafonte, and actor Sean Penn.
by Nathan Southern synopsis