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Lee's new film on Katrina disaster

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Los Angeles (Reuters): Filmmaker Spike Lee usually says what he thinks and lets the chips fall where they may. But he grew shy the other day, telling reporters that his latest work must speak for itself. That may be because his four-hour film ''When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,'' about how Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, is as much an indictment as it is a documentary. He lets a hundred voices of displaced, disoriented, rightfully bitter New Orleans residents do the talking for him.

In a review of the film, Newsweek said, ''the result is arguably the most essential work of his 20-year career.'' The film, originally meant to be only two hours long, chronicles how a great American city was reduced to rubble by a Category 5 hurricane, and how its residents were scattered to the four corners not just by nature but by state, local and federal government agencies that badly managed the crisis.

The film opens with ironic contrasts of historic New Orleans parades and parties intermixed with shots of debris, floating bodies and destroyed houses -- and all set against the music of Louis Armstrong's ''Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.'' Four hours later the message is clear: almost a year after the disaster, the old New Orleans is still missing with many wondering whether it can ever return. Lee's film receives its world premiere on Wednesday night when it will be shown to 16,000 people at the New Orleans Coliseum -- a tough audience if ever there was one. It will then be shown on successive nights in two two-hour parts on HBO starting on Aug. 21. It will air again in its entirety on Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of the hurricane's Louisiana landfall.

Lee, one of the film industry's most prominent African-American directors, said he did his best to let the people of New Orleans tell their own story. Unlike many of his fictional films, he does not make an appearance, and he forgoes the use of a narration, simply letting people look straight into the camera and speak. Lee, a New Yorker who counts many New Orleans musicians and artists as friends, says that he was in Italy for the Venice film festival when the hurricane hit, but knew from the first instant of the disaster that this was a film he had to make-even if it meant staying in the background.

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