Katrina, Through a Muddy Lens

Run like hell, WWL radio's talk-jock Garland Robinette was telling his New Orleans listeners. Hurricane Katrina had just shattered his entire floor-to-ceiling studio window overlooking the Louisiana Superdome. Reliving the episode for a documentary-film crew, Robinette described moving his broadcast to a closet and comforting cell-phone callers trapped in attics. "I'm dying here," one pleaded. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing," he recalled.

Amateur filmmaker Stephen Rue hopes to keep personal histories like Robinette's alive. The prominent local divorce attorney isn't a skilled auteur like Spike Lee or the other two teams (from Canada and Japan) making Katrina documentaries. But Rue trades on his local roots and footage of the Lower Ninth Ward that he collected just before the flood. Lying in a Texas hotel room the night the levees failed, Rue turned the camera on himself: "It's 2:45 in the morning," he said, "and people are drowning. I feel so helpless."

Rue returned to New Orleans and pulled tales of life, death and race from chefs, cops, musicians and Mardi Gras krewes. He also found contemporaneous video-- shot by residents and rescuers. "For oral history, you've got to get the voices as soon as you can," says Tulane University historian Douglas Brinkley. "Stephen's getting it in real time." For Rue, who lived the tragedy he filmed, those voices will echo for years to come.