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From devastation to the Academy shortlist

31 December 2008

Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, are in the lucky, if not anxious, position of having their directorial debut, Trouble the Water on the shortlist for the Best Documentary award at the Academy Awards. The doc, which has already racked up awards from the Sundance, Full Frame and Silverdocs festivals, uses real life footage of Kimberly Rivers Roberts as she films her husband, neighbors and family before and during the floods that ravaged New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The first time that realscreen met with Deal about the doc, the film hadn't yet found a distributor. Fast forward many months and now Zeitgeist Films has brought the film to almost 200 American cities and is still going.

How are the co-directors feeling about all of the awards love? "It's exciting," says Deal. "All of the awards are a little bit overwhelming. That's not what we were looking for when we set out to make this film but I think that it really reflects that we've struck a chord with a lot of people. It's a story about empowerment and a story about hope. We couldn't be happier with how well this film has been received."

The doc's star, Kimberly Roberts, has an honor of her own. The aspiring rapper's title track is also on the Academy shortlist for Best Song.

"We told her while we were editing that we were tentatively calling the film Trouble the Water, which is a line that comes from an old spiritual song called 'Wade in the Water' that has a history," says Deal. "It's also a coded slave song that was used in the Underground Railroad to help guide people to freedom and about a week after we told her that we'd taken that line for the film, a brown paper envelope arrived in the mail and she'd composed and recorded this beautiful song. It's very exciting to see that that's also eligible for Best Original Song this year and we'll keep our fingers crossed for Kimberly."