After moderating the cast Q&A for Beasts of the Southern Wild last Thursday in Baton Rouge, I got to see the next offering from the gang at Court 13, Tchoupitoulas (pronounced roughly chop-a-too-less). Tchoupitoulas centers on 3 young boys who venture across the Mississippi for a night in downtown New Orleans. Court 13 is an independent filmmaking collective founded in 2004 in New York. They moved to New Orleans in late 2006 and seem to be making a mission of making movies that could only be made here in Louisiana.
The screening was held Friday night after a very long and wonderful day of attending Uncle Lionel’s funeral and second line through flooded streets for hours. My feet were beat and my knees were angry at me but that didn’t stop us from walking to Siberia. The screening was originally scheduled to run at the Mint with a concert from one of my favorite musicians, Little Freddie King (who appears in the film). Unfortunately, the flooding made the venue unavailable. The punk and heavy metal focused nightclub, Siberia, saved the day by offering their stage up for the screening.
The idea of standing for 2 hours after walking (and wading) all day scared me at first, but I was ultimately happy not to have gotten one of the few chairs available. The movie was filled with music, much of it very local (and paid for by Kickstarter), and I ended up dancing through most of the film. It was like wandering from stage to stage through Jazz Fest.
I’ve always had wheels on my heels, willing to travel to see things I can’t see around the corner. That said, throughout my life, I’ve met many people who’ve never been to places just down the road. Many people in Maryland have never been to nearby New York and a staggering number have never been to next-door Washington D.C. There are people in Baton Rouge and Houma and other neighboring areas who’ve never been to New Orleans. The boys in Tchoupitoulas have never ventured across the river though they can see the city from their neighborhood across the Mississippi. The movie follows them on their big adventure with only a dog for a chaperone.
The filmmakers, Turner and Bill Ross, are originally from Ohio just as the Beasts storytellers are from Florida and New York, but they live here now and they want you to know why. For me, the best parts of the movie were on Bourbon Street. Most natives to the city avoid Bourbon Street with its strip clubs, t-shirt shops and “Huge Ass Beers.” Tourists often come to the city and spend their entire visit wandering from club to club listening to cover bands, go-cups in hand. They come to drink and drink some more. That said, I have lots of great memories of Bourbon Street. Since I was a teen (as in most states, the drinking age used to be 18), my cousins and I would head to Bourbon and dance the night away. We’d wander into the Famous Door and enjoy a band led by a guy wearing a washboard and clasping spoons then hit a few more clubs before heading to Razoo for 3 for 1 drinks and dancing until dawn.
I never stood under the hotel balconies waving for someone to throw me beads, but I enjoyed seeing other people do it because it was as close as I’d normally come to Mardi Gras. I loved the kids tap dancing with flattened soda cans under their sneakers, the lone saxophonists and trumpeters playing on street corners, and, of course, the omnipresent brass band in front of the Foot Locker at Bourbon and Canal. I now know that, over the years, those bands included the Grammy winning Rebirth Brass Band. And though I never entered the many strip clubs and “love acts,” I was always fascinated by the scantily clad women standing in their doorways and the dancing silhouettes in the windows.
Tchoupitoulas captures all of this and more, mostly through the eyes of a young boy. It was like a scrapbook of everything that’s great about Bourbon Street. The movie ventures into other areas of the city, including a fun exploration of a semi-abandoned showboat, but it was the celebration of our city’s biggest tourist trap that really captivated me.
Earlier, while spending a day at a funeral where we weren’t supposed to wear black that became a movable block party singing and dancing through flooded streets, I heard that familiar phrase, “Only in New Orleans.” You hear that a lot around here because there are a lot of things that are fairly normal here that you almost never see anywhere else in the whole world. Throughout the movie, I was reminded of many of those things and I was glad so much of it had been captured on film.
Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Tchoupitoulas features characters who live below the poverty level, but both movies focus on our culture of abundance. The boys even manage to stumble across a parade, screaming “Who Dat!” to get beads – plastic treasures showered on parade-goers. Tchoupitoulas may not be the heavily lauded crowd-pleaser that Beasts of the Southern Wild has become, but it is proof that there are some stories that can only be told here. It is proof that Louisiana is not just a great place to shoot a movie because of our tax incentives, amazing infrastructure and large talent pool, but because it is an inspiration for many stories and an incredible backdrop to even more. I’m glad to see, that in addition to all of the Los Angeles-based filming going on here, that there are filmmakers here telling this regions’ stories. I wish Court 13 well with their offerings and hope more local filmmakers are inspired to follow their lead.
As a side note, we met with Jeff “The Dude” Dowd and the marvelous Margie Perez at Marigny Brasserie on Frenchmen on the way to the screening. I’ll be honest, we selected the restaurant because of its location and the fact that we had a coupon. I have always liked their food, but competition is tough in this town and there are other restaurants I love. To our surprise and subsequent delight, we found that they’d hired a new chef and entirely changed their menu. Old favorites have been updated and stylized.
I enjoyed my Seared Sea Scallops with Black Beluga Lentils, Tasso Ham, Caviar and Kale Chips ($12). It was at once health-food-friendly clean food and caviar-coated seafood decadence. I also liked my Crab and Avocado Salad of Baby Arugula and Red Onions with a Sweet Corn Vinaigrette ($14). Their Shrimp and Grits have been reimagined with Gouda and even the table bread was good. I look forward to trying the Grilled Watermelon Salad with Baby Arugala, Strawberries, Goat Cheese and Chile Lime Vinaigrette topped with Candied Pecans ($8). If you haven’t been to the restaurant in the last month, it’s time to give it another try.