When The Levees Broke, Spike Lee’s haunting 2006 documentary about Hurricane Katrina, is the director’s strongest work to date, and arguably the most powerful mainstream artistic response to the tragedy. For the film, Lee ditched the out-sized ego and over-the-top sensibility that tended to carry his projects into the realm of spectacle (see: Bamboozled, Crooklyn). Instead, we got a humbling and humbly shot masterpiece that relied on the power of images—destroyed homes, detritus in the streets, funeral parades—to tell its story. It remains an important film, the first piece of media to give American audiences a true taste of the storm’s severity. Now Lee is back with a follow-up documentary, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, which airs tonight and tomorrow night on HBO.
Interestingly, the same problem that bogged down the otherwise excellent HBO series Treme—a fear of the troubling complexities and moral ambiguities of a city in flux, or what the Times calls a “diffuse” and “uncertain” view point—troubles Lee’s latest. But for viewers of the previous installment, the opportunity to catch up with both the characters introduced in the first film, as well as city itself, which is resilient beyond belief, makes If God is Willing must-see-TV.