The New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) kicked off its 24th film fest last Thursday night with the premiere of 12 Years a Slave. For 2 years in a row, MovieMaker Magazine included the New Orleans Film Festival (NOFF) in its “Top 25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” NOFS Executive Director Jolene Pinder should probably prepare for a 3rd inclusion in this honor. The fest has panels, outdoor screenings and plenty of brass bands along with a variety of premieres, many of which were filmed right here in Louisiana.
The Louisiana premiere for 12 Years a Slave took place in the newly reopened Civic Theatre. I had hoped to see the movie and support my TV husband on HBO’s Treme, Rob Steinberg, who has a part in the film. The good news is that October has been a very busy acting month for me. The bad news is that I arrived back from a set in Alabama 10 minutes late and missed my chance to see the premiere. But in New Orleans, even film festivals have second line parades so I joined the filmmakers, actors and audience afterward to dance down Poydras to Gallier Hall behind the Young Pinstripe Brass Band.
Friday night, we attended a screening of August: Osage County at the Prytania. Based on a Broadway play, the incredible cast features Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney and Sam Shepard among others. The performances were amazing and I laughed a lot, especially considering the dark material.
Afterward, we headed to the French Quarter Film House (FQFH) for the Film Makers Welcome Party. The FQFH is a post-production facility with sound studios, edit bays and screening rooms as well as posh residential suites for filmmakers. The beautiful manor home was wiped out in Katrina and left blighted for years. Squatters took up residence in the shell of the once magnificent mansion. The recent influx of filming in Louisiana has had many positive side effects and bringing this building back from the dead must certainly be counted. And because this film festival is unique to NOLA, there was delicious food like Cochon de Lait over stone-milled grits and live music by drummer Shannon Powell and his band.
Saturday, we made our way to the Contemporary Arts Center for the film I was most looking forward to, The Whole Gritty City. Shot entirely in New Orleans, the documentary began when Richard Barber, a 20 year veteran of CBS News and editor at 48 Hours worked on a 2007 piece about 13 post-Katrina murders that took place within 2 weeks including the death of Dinerral Shavers. Shavers played with the Hot 8 Brass Band and was the band director at L.E. Rabouin High School, one of the first schools to open after the storm.
Barber and fellow New York filmmaker, Andre Lambertson, intended to tell the story of the L.E. Rabouin High School Marching Band and it’s new band leader Lonzie Jackson, but then they met the magnetic Wilbert Rawlins Jr. of O. Perry Walker High School and realized how critical these band directors were in the development of the kids in their care. Rawlins shared how the murders and overdoses of his 7 best friends led him to fight for his students and their futures.
O. Perry Walker’s The Chargers Marching Band is a favorite during parade season with their high-stepping moves and high-energy songs. The band is as full of life as its leader. (The school’s smaller brass band, The Chosen Ones, played for us in the theatre before the film began and in the lobby after it ended).
Then filmmaker Barber met snare drummer Derrick Tabb of the 2012 Grammy winning Rebirth Brass Band as Tabb was launching his non-profit, The Roots of Music. I’ve blogged many times about this wonderful and empowering organization which provides 9-14 year olds with music education, tutoring, hot meals and rides home. Their band, The Roots of Music Crusaders, is one of my favorites.
The movie was full of hope, strength, honesty, heartbreak and plenty of music. Many of the people featured in the film attended the screening and Q&A including the band directors and some of the kids. I defy you not to fall in love with Jazz, Bear, Scully, Brandon, Kirk and the many other young musicians.
The good news is that I’m filming again this week. The bad news is that means I’ll miss the rest of the fest including highlights like Palme d’Or nominee Nebraska starring Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Award winner Bruce Dern along with Will Forte. The festival ends the 17th so there’s still time to check it out!
(photos from Facebook)