"In If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise, airing Monday and Tuesday on HBO, Spike Lee returns to New Orleans, the scene of his post-Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke to assess what might be called the damage being done by the recovery." Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times: "He also assesses the actual recovery, the illusory recovery, the psychological recovery, and the assault on the recovery that is the BP oil spill — an unfortunate and unavoidable late addition that, though not specifically related to Katrina or the following flood, fits his larger themes of class war and bad luck and enlarges his portrait of a land that can seem beleaguered by God or cursed through voodoo but which most definitely shows the scars of human mismanagement, corruption and greed."
"Creek can feel disjointed as it jumps among these many strands of the New Orleans story," writes Mike Hale in the New York Times. "But there is a somber theme that runs through most of them: the question, if there's any doubt, of whether developers and their friends in government are taking advantage of the destruction wrought by the hurricane to build a wealthier, whiter city — one without the affordable housing or public services needed by the 100,000 or so former residents who still have not returned."
For Billy Sothern, writing in Salon, "implicit in the framing of the documentary, and of most of the engaging books and films to come out of New Orleans since the storm, is the notion that the challenges that define life in post-Katrina New Orleans are the same vexing national crises on which the quality and success of 21st-century America will be, and should be, judged; that the same problems also exist in Lee's beloved native Brooklyn and so many other places in this country. Despite Lee's critique of the political and social realities that made the Gulf's twin disasters possible, despite the seemingly endless images of dead bodies — human and animal — that we see in this film, If God Is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise shows that Lee is not without hope."
More from Aaron Barnhart (Kansas City Star), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Mark A Perigard (Boston Herald) and Dave Walker (Times-Picayune). Interviews with Lee: Aaron Hillis (IFC), Dave Itzkoff (NYT) and Jonathan Shannon (Time Out New York). And here's a complete air date list.
Updates: "The second part proves to be especially even-handed," notes Edward Copeland, but: "If your anger has subsided, once he reaches the BP section of the film, your blood will start boiling again as the endless string of lies from the oil company is recounted along with previous BP malfeasance in Texas City and Alaska."
"What's most impressive about Creek," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club, "is that while Lee clearly blames the government for underserving New Orleans, and clearly believes racism has been a major factor in the city's enduring woes, he provides an open enough forum that someone could watch all four hours of Creek and come to the opposite conclusion. When Lee shows what Brad Pitt has done to help build safe, affordable new homes in the Lower 9th, or when he shows the citizens of New Orleans volunteering to renovate an elementary school, it's almost an argument that private action is preferable to government action — especially given what the documentary reveals about widespread government corruption and incompetence.... Ultimately, If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don't Rise is a documentary about the myriad ways that the poor stay poor, and the way our society marginalizes them by reducing them to numbers on a balance sheet instead of people with their own unique stories to tell and their own network of friends and family who love and rely on them."
"It has a south-of-the-Mason/Dixon-line storytelling style — a fondness for rococo details and digressions, a leisurely sense of pacing, and a generosity of spirit that leavens Lee’s justified outrage." Matt Zoller Seitz for the New Republic: "It seems less like a postscript to Levees than a second chapter in a powerful and probably still-unfinished masterwork."
IN OTHER NEWS
New York's Fall Preview features Mike Flaherty's piece on another HBO project, Boardwalk Empire, created by Terence Winter (The Sopranos) and produced by Martin Scorsese. Premieres September 19. Also in the Preview: Kevin Gray profiles Josh Brolin (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), Bilge Ebiri meets Chloë Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In), and the staff lists their 20 most anticipated films of the season.
Today, n+1 begins rolling out its new online film review, N1FR. Edited by AS Hamrah, the first issue will feature ten essays and reviews, appearing over the next two weeks. The first piece is Chris Fujiwara's consideration of the increasing slipperiness of the term "contemporary cinema": "If the outstanding films are never all visible at the same time until the window of their contemporaneity has closed, it means they are truly contemporary only for a small group of people — critics, programmers, and distributors. (The rest of us are like people looking at stars that appear bright but, in their own real time, may have already gone dim.)"
Update, 8/24: And now, the full issue is online.