Earth, Wind, and Fire: AG Picks for the 2022 New Orleans Film Festival

With over 3,600 submissions from over 100 countries, wading solo through the selections for the 33rd annual New Orleans Film Festival is sure to be challenging without some guidance—that’s where we come in. It’s a diverse lineup that also prioritizes home: Films made in the American South account for half of the selections. These films cover a lot of ground—you’ll journey through emotionally intense animated shorts, politically pertinent documentaries, musically rich Louisiana films—marked with an (La.) in our guide—and expansive narrative features. Being faced with such vast possibilities is overwhelming, so we hope these picks steer you towards something welcomed and perhaps unexpected.


Our Father, the Devil
Cameroon-born Ellie Foumbi delivers a complex debut feature exploring the trauma of war in this psychological drama shot in France. Her film takes on the subject of children in war and the aftermath of healing as it surfaces in the body in unexpected ways. Marie (Babetido Sadjo), an African refugee working as the head chef of a retirement home, delivers with precision the post-traumatic bodily terror that hijacks our ability to see clearly. The film’s use of light mirrors its desire to seek truth: Light cleaves, darkens, hides, and illuminates—much like the past, it is hard to pin down and keep still. The film soars visually in the scenes that slow down and allow us to sit with the hard realities of war. That is the poetry of a film that asks us to hold: “Everyone deserves a second chance.” New Orleans residents will appreciate the use of food and faith, as both feature prominently in the film, especially felt in the familiarity of the first kitchen scene discussion of making a roux. They will feel, too, that well-learned tug of knowing we survive not only through our bodies, but always with other bodies holding and helping us. —Megan Burns

Street Punx (La.)
(Pictured at top) Polish transplant Maja (the director/actor’s actual name) has a Skype romance with a mohawk’d punk boy from Myanmar. She also wants to make a movie about him and his constituents. But how does one make a movie? Teaming up with full-of-hot-air producer/hypeman Yamil (played hilariously by Yamil Rodriguez, the actual producer), the two proceed to make the rounds among wingnuts and sleazeballs to raise the capital. Not exactly a “DIY” operation. In fact, Maja’s punks might just be the MacGuffin, a dyed-red herring sending us down the ouroboros rabbit hole of artistic consummation. It’s a movie about making a movie. Specifically a movie about making a movie documenting the making of a movie. That’s how meta it is. You can tell the filmmakers are taking the piss, riffing on their generation’s post-post-everything malaise. For the millennials, by the millennials, about the millennials. But some things are timeless. Like the punks. Or that particular demographic who flock here in search of the burlesque-laden, drug-drenched, fairy-dust-sprinkled magic school bus ride that may or may not culminate in the Pearl bar’s backyard UFO… or below an overpass in Yangon. Fuck the destination—take the ride. —Andre de Saint Exupery

Director and writer Kerry Mondragón’s psychedelic thriller follows teenage Aapo (Juan Daniel García Treviño) as he navigates a web of colonial curses and ancestral obligations. When a slinky outsider, Luz (Dalia Xiuhcoatl), requests venomous toads for a tantric ritual under the supervision of a trusted Mayan shaman, Aapo jumps at the opportunity to deliver. Aapo’s journey starts with an idyllic trip through the jungle on a stolen dirtbike to find Luz’s camp, The Empire of Love. The vibes sour as Aapo arrives at the camp and meets Franky (Jordan Barrett), a former climatologist turned influencer. Aapo’s adventure fully curdles when, in place of the shaman, he finds a white cult leader (Neil Sandilands, played by Zake Zezo) acting as dictator to The Marias, a cohort of silent Mayan girls. While obvious dubbing and cheap costuming in the second act reveal the film’s scotch-taped edges, the hazy, B-movie style effectively sets a sinister tone. —Rhiannon Goad

You Resemble Me
You Resemble Me is a dark and symbolic take on self-identity and the yearning for belonging. Dina Amer (director, writer, producer) shares the untold, complicated story of Hasna Ait Boulahcen, the alleged suicide bomber in the 2015 Saint-Denis raid in France. Young Hasna (Lorenza Grimaudo) protects her younger sister Miriam (Ilona Grimaudo) by any means necessary. Poverty-stricken with absent parents, Hasna and Miriam find joy in creating small adventures together. The innocence of the young sisters quickly fades as the reality of their circumstances sets in. Amer hones in on the dynamic of their sisterhood by emphasizing their obvious physical resemblance and influence on each other, while also distinguishing between them. After Hasna and Miriam are abruptly separated, we follow adult Hasna (Mouna Soualem) down a destructive path of self-discovery. Amer displays the reckoning of having pride in one’s culture while also acknowledging its complicated history. The audience is taken on Hasna’s personal journey and inner turmoil of being a Muslim woman in a European city, while terrorism and mass distruction simultaneously hover over her homeland. —Christine M. Hamilton


Black Mothers Love & Resist
Opening with striking images of Black faces—people who were attacked and murdered by law enforcement—this documentary sends an emotionally clear message that a change must come. Oscar Grant III, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, etc.: These names are widely recognized due to unfortunate circumstances. However, the mothers of these victims relentlessly strive to both keep their names known and the list from growing. Débora Souza Silva’s documentary sheds light on the blatant violence against Black Americans and the discrepancies in the judicial system. Mothers Wanda Johnson and Angela Williams are joined by an unfortunately large group of fellow mothers whose relatives were also slain by police and who serve as a support group to comfort each other, share resources, laugh, cry, be angry, and conspire to stand up to the judicial system. Viewers follow Johnson and Williams as they take matters into their own hands by facilitating rallies and challenging political figures to enforce bills that forbid police from using deadly force upon arrest. The message of this heartfelt documentary is to bring awareness to the impact campaign that supports these mothers fighting for justice. —Christine M. Hamilton

Butterfly in the Sky
If you were a child in the early ‘80s, you may remember the book Days with Frog and Toad. And you may remember actor LeVar Burton reading it to you on the PBS television show, Reading Rainbow. In this documentary, former cast and crew describe their unique approach to literary education through public television and the excitement of working on this popular television show, with credit to LeVar Burton for the show’s success. As Burton says, “There is no more important endeavor than to support and nurture the minds and souls and hearts of children.” Directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb do well in stimulating the nostalgia of early education through television. The documentary honors the heart and soul that was put into creating Reading Rainbow and the impact it left on American children from the early ‘80s all the way into the early aughts. —Christine M. Hamilton

Friday I’m In Love
In his directorial debut, Marcus Pontello pays tribute to the Numbers Nightclub, one of the oldest and longest-running nightclubs in the U.S. and a counterculture safehaven for the LGBTQ community. He shares personal appreciation for the club being the first space where he felt seen and accepted as a young gay man. Pontello takes us back to 1975, during Houston’s Gay Rights Movement and the early development of Numbers Nightclub. Former owners, employees, and patrons share personal accounts of their time spent at the famed club. Many speak of the freeing energy the club provoked and how it served as a safe space to be as openly flamboyant and queer as they wanted to be. Spanning over four decades, Numbers has evolved from a popular discoteque to a notable rock music venue, hosting acts such as R.E.M., The Cure, and Nine Inch Nails. Pontello frames Numbers as a place to get lost in the moment, then find yourself safe at home. —Christine M. Hamilton

In the Bones
In the Bones documents the everyday lives of working-class women and girls alongside organizer Cassandra Welchlin‘s effort to pass a gender equity pay bill in Mississippi. The documentary immediately declares a thesis linking the high poverty rate among women in Mississippi to the underrepresentation of women in the state’s government. Unfortunately, the pay equity bill appears primarily symbolic; it’s never clear how the bill would improve the lives of the working-class women featured. Still, directors Kelly Duane de la Vega, Jessica Anthony, and Zandashé Brown provide a humanistic look at women’s lives, weaving intimate moments of humiliation, tenderness, humor, and glamor. Midway through, the documentary expands to include the right to abortion, a much more compelling narrative. Despite these bright spots, the film’s hamfisted thesis betrays itself as Republican women oppose the pay equity legislation. In a particularly devastating twist, one of the bill’s most adamant supporters, Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch, spearheads the effort to overturn Roe. —Rhiannon Goad

Pleistocene Park
In the remote tundra of Siberia, environmental mad scientist Sergey Zimov (who resembles Alan Moore wearing a purple beret) has been working since the ‘90s to repopulate the native animals of the region in an attempt to rebuild the “mammoth steppe” ecosystem from 100,000 years ago. The goal is to protect the melting permafrost, the destruction of which Zimov discovered would create a carbon feedback loop catapulting us into a worst case scenario for global warming. Documentary filmmaker Luke Griswold-Tergis immerses himself in the project of Pleistocene Park, where he is often chided for holding a camera instead of tools to help. Making treacherous cross-continent journeys with Zimov’s son Nikita to gather bison and other animals, Giswold-Tergis’ heavy-handed presence in front of the screen serves as retrospective validation of his role in the successes of Pleistocene Park. While their project might not be enough on its own to stop climate change, it has the potential to make a real difference. It is a wonderful and special joy to watch these Siberian cowboys dedicating their lives to rebuilding what humans have destroyed. —Kallie Tiffault

A Taste of Heaven: The Ecstatic Song & Gospel of Maestro Raymond Anthony Myles (La.)
A Taste of Heaven is a touching tribute to New Orleans gospel great Raymond Anthony Myles. The documentary opens with sweat dripping down from Myles’ signature Jheri curls as he waves his hands during an impassioned performance. Throughout this film, viewers are graced with some remarkable performance footage of the late singer, pianist, and choir director, as well as an up-close look into the man behind the music. Quite a few notable figures in the New Orleans music community, such as Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas, sing their praises of him during interviews for the documentary. Jazz Fest head Quint Davis even goes so far as to argue that Myles’ contributions to gospel are as great as John Coltrane’s contributions to jazz. Big Freedia, now a globally recognized gay icon, offers particularly powerful testimony about how important it felt to see Myles, a flamboyantly dressed gay man, captivate church after church even while pastors preached about the supposed ills of homosexuality. Despite Myles’ clear talents, his career suffered at the hands of gatekeepers in the gospel music industry, who disapproved of both his flashy style and sexuality. Throughout A Taste of Heaven, family members, singers, and contemporaries in the local church community show just how much of an impact Myles had despite the barriers that stood in his way. —William Archambeault


Un Adiós para Lilí
A grumpy power company meter reader (Isabel Spencer) makes her rounds collecting bills and threatening to shut off delinquent customers, unless they bribe her. She arrives at the home of an old woman (Venecia Feliz) who is trying to use a broken part to connect her power to the grid. After the part sparks a fire, the old woman suffers an accident, and the meter reader is the only one around to help. A beautiful shot guides us, as if through the veil, to witness the moment from an ethereal plane as the ghost of the woman approaches the meter reader, who is distracted and trying to resuscitate her body. Together, the ghost and the meter take on an important task. Director Lorena Duran packs primal emotion and terrestrial beauty into this short, telling the important story of connecting to each other and the Earth in this time of predatory capitalist infrastructure. —Kallie Tiffault

Comadre is a narrative short that tracks a Mexican immigrant’s final days of caring for a girl she’s raised since infancy, elucidating the emotional complications that result from devoting your life (and career) to someone else’s child with gut-wrenching precision. Marielitos, the protagonist, is lovingly portrayed by a woman who also works in domestic childcare offscreen. You ache for Marielitos while watching her realize that the world expects her to see the child at the center of her reality as just a job, and one that is about to unceremoniously come to an end. But the pain is tempered by the sweetness of Marielitos’ relationship with her young charge, and the intricate rendering of the many little moments throughout the film that illustrate the depth of feeling between them. Since Marielitos’ predicament is shared by so many, this short film is a beautiful opportunity to reflect on the world’s many comadres navigating the strange world of career child-rearing with love. —Holly Devon

Thanks to a treasure trove of animated short films I’ve seen on the free streaming website Kanopy, I have come to the conclusion that much of the world’s best philosophizing is currently being done in animated shorts. The fleeting nature of time, emotional resistance to change, grief’s many shades of gray—these cartoons go there. Drone, directed by Sean Buckelew, fits squarely into this tradition. The short’s protagonist is the titular drone manufactured by the CIA to carry its death-dealing weaponry along with AI software whose programming is meant to demonstrate respect for human life. This is, of course, a thinly veiled P.R. stunt to assuage the nation’s conscience about the murderous robots our tax dollars are daily sending into villages around the world. But the plan backfires disastrously when a malfunction during a routine demonstration leads to an unexpected death, after which the drone’s ethics programming causes it to fly through the skies weeping despondently at the cruel fate of being created to kill. The short has enough obvious melodrama to avoid taking itself too seriously—the CIA’s ostentatiously cynical P.R. machine is one source of comic relief. But Buckelew is still sufficiently sincere to offer the audience a chance to meditate on the Frankenstein’s monster that is drone warfare by, like Shelley before him, considering the view from the perspective of the monster. —Holly Devon

This dreamlike short borrows the eyes of the imaginative young Lil Ant (Anthony Harris Jr.), whose obsession with the mythical Pegasus leads him to see the potential for flight around every corner of his struggling neighborhood. His flights of imagination are mirrored by the inundation of air traffic that is the source of many of his community’s woes; Lil Ant’s family lives right next to LAX, L.A.’s busiest airport. A news report in the beginning of the film reports an aircraft “raining toxic fuel” onto an area elementary school, and later Lil Ant’s father shakes his head and tells his son that the problem is nothing new. The hard facts give credibility to the film’s poetic vision: Through the eyes of this vulnerable young boy it becomes possible to observe the chains of this world alongside a simultaneous vision of flying away from them. —Holly Devon


The Bardia
A portrait of Amal Ahamri, a fierce and beautiful Moroccan equestrian making her comeback in the centuries-old national sport of tbourida, this documentary short is a rare window into a dazzling world of mounted pageantry whose finery puts the rodeo to shame. Tbourida is a vestige of the Maghreb’s ancient cavalries: Each team lines up in full regalia—complete with antique rifles—and is judged on their ability to gallop and shoot in unison. The short is a visual feast, with frame after frame of resplendent galloping horses and their rifle-wielding riders. As Ahamri says in the narration, competing in tbourida “is like living in a painting.” But director Gabriella Garcia-Pardo gives equal focus to the complicated inner world of her subject, a female champion of a male-dominated sport who must balance her passion for tbourida with motherhood and daily obligations that tug at her from all directions. —Holly Devon

Exit 238
In a suburban parking lot outside of Austin, Texas, birdwatching enthusiasts and apathetic locals gather to witness the annual migration of the purple martin. The film is a character study of the parking lot, and the pacing and mood of the film make the viewer feel as though they are wandering, dreamlike, through this unlikely watering hole. Director Henry Davis constructs a series of vignettes: A man has bird-related trauma from getting bombarded by pigeons while exiting a train; a group of young men hang out by their cars encouraging their friend on his journey to find a sugar momma, while they hope to not be pooped on by the massive flocks of birds above them; an older woman puts on a glove to pick up a bird who has died flying into the windows of a Chase Bank, which ignored requests to turn their lights off at night during this migration. As she places the dead bird ever so gently into a plastic bag, she reflects on “the perils of migration, many of them man-made.” —Kallie Tiffault

The Feeling of Being Close to You 靠近你的感觉
Filmmaker Ash Goh Hua uses old home movies alongside audio of a candid conversation with her mother about Hua’s negative feelings surrounding the way her mother raised her. Hua’s mother explains how nobody teaches you to be a mother, and that her own unhappiness affected how she raised her kids. As we learn Hua moved to America as a teenager to escape oppression from her family and the Chinese government, themes of diaspora and immigration within these complex family dynamics are deepened. This moving found footage documentary asks the question: Does being family make it easier to forgive, or make it harder? —Kallie Tiffault

Uncle at sea (Chú đi biển) (La.)
Uncle at sea (Chú đi biển) provides a brief glimpse into the lives of Vietnamese fishermen in Louisiana. Following Sài Gòn’s fall in 1975, a fair number of Vietnamese fishermen found themselves starting anew in southern Louisiana. The area’s similar conditions allowed them to adapt and eventually become a vital part of the Gulf Coast seafood industry. However, their stories are not without newfound hardships in the United States. Three-and-a-half decades after having to leave their lives and livelihoods in their home country behind, these fishermen were dealt another crippling blow by the 2010 BP oil spill. After having led a boat of refugees out of Vietnam in 1982, Thiện Nguyễn found himself once again leading the charge. This time, he attempted to work past difficult language barriers in hopes of ensuring that his community’s subsistence fishing would be adequately compensated. By following fishermen onto their boats and listening to them tell their stories as they work, director Marion Hoàng Ngọc Hill allows them to have agency over their own narratives. Uncle at sea is a powerful reminder of the Vietnamese community’s impact in Louisiana and the hardships that many non-native English speaking immigrants endure in the U.S. —William Archambeault

One Buck Won’t Hurt (La.)
One Buck Won’t Hurt is a true New Orleans coming-of-age story. This documentary, which director Christopher Stoudt made in association with Innocence Project New Orleans, follows four Black tap dancers as they grow into their late teens and try to stay out of trouble. Members sweat it out, working hard on the French Quarter streets for tips from overwhelmingly white tourists. The four teens aren’t fueled by a particularly strong passion for tap dancing, but rather a classic New Orleans hustle mentality. As one member puts it, “We can’t get a job. We can’t get nothing. That’s why I tap dance. I’d rather make an honest living than get myself hurt or something out here.” Stoudt contrasts the members’ collegiate ambitions with clashes against the police. In one instance, members narrowly avoid being charged after getting caught shoplifting socks from a tourist shop. Every moment of their lives, from entering the pandemic to entering fatherhood, is filtered through tough economic realities and New Orleans’ status as the incarceration capital of the United States, where 95% of youth arrested are Black. —William Archambeault

Wild Magnolias (La.)
Wild Magnolias offers an up close and intimate view into its namesake. The Wild Magnolias are arguably one of New Orleans’ best known groups of Black Masking Indians, propelled by multiple influential recordings and the past leadership of their former Big Chief Bo Dollis. “As a chief, you’re more than a chief to certain people,” explains current Big Chief Bo Dollis, Jr. in reference to the position he inherited from his father. “You gotta be a marriage counselor, you gotta be a friend, and some of them you gotta be a father to.” This short documentary follows Dollis and other members as they guide a new generation into the tradition. Youngsters gleam in accomplishment at their suit’s progress while somehow still finding time for class, music lessons with The Roots of Music, and girlfriends. Throughout it all, viewers are graced with incredible work-in-progress footage of one of New Orleans’ great art forms. —William Archambeault

The 33rd New Orleans Film Festival will take place in-person November 3 through 8, and virtually through November 13. For more info, check out