Last Looks: AG Picks for the 2023 New Orleans Film Festival

The lineup of the 34th New Orleans Film Festival is characteristically robust, and this year we bring you perhaps our most comprehensive coverage (over 50 titles) to date. Maybe there’s something extra comforting, these days especially, about losing yourself in the dark for a few hours. Over the 127 slated films, you’ll be inundated with inventive shorts, illuminative documentaries, and narrative features that span from delicate to raunchy. The festival will take place at several locations across the city, with 25 world premieres in the mix. Take a peek, make your picks, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show.


Director Seán Devlin threads together true accounts from survivors of the 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda, one of the strongest recorded typhoons ever to devastate the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. The film follows Jaya (as themself), a non-binary teacher and drag performer, whose sights are set on being crowned Miss Gay Sicogon at a beauty pageant in a neighboring town. By happenstance, they’re joined by former student Arnel Pablo (as himself), who’s looking for his estranged father. As they hit road bumps in their travels, the unlikely duo encounter residents who recall the typhoon’s aftermath, their loss and grief, and the atrocities of colonialist corporations that followed. The film makes good use of comedic breaks throughout the film, bringing levity while preserving the raw realities of the storm’s wake and its effect on local residents. Jaya’s deep sense of identity and subsequent actions serve as a beacon for both the queer and island communities—to learn to fight for oneself against homophobia, corporate exploitation, and self-doubt. Asog is unequivocally a spiritual devotional piece to the ancestral lands of the Philippines and empowers Filipino identity. —Van Le


Chronicles of a Wandering Saint
The film world is rife with repetition, thanks in no small part to Hollywood’s stranglehold on narrative imagination. But every so often a director comes right out of the gate with a film that is derivative of nothing and jubilantly itself, permanently expanding the cinematic horizon of possibility. So it is with Tomás Gómez Bustillo’s Chronicles of a Wandering Saint. I was smitten from the opening shot, a comedic pas de deux between the protagonist and a godly beam of light streaming into the church where she is self-consciously knelt in prayer. Set in rural Argentina among a pious, aging Catholic population, the film follows a provincial woman (played by Mónica Villa), whose bad case of spiritual hubris takes her into strange new dimensions. Though the film grows increasingly fantastical as it progresses, it stays rooted in the simplicity and quotidian rhythms that characterize small town life, tenderly revealing the wonders hidden within ordinary people. Bustillo has the artistic sensibility of a miniaturist, scaling down the film’s sweeping themes—faith, authenticity, love, the nature of life and death—to better adorn them with fine detail. His jokes may be as subtle as a dog’s wet paw prints on the floor of a cathedral, the living breaking into sneezing fits before an approaching spirit, or the comic timing in the sound of three middle-aged women slapping mosquitoes on a balmy night—but I laughed out loud at them. For days now, I’ve continued to savor these little moments, relishing how the film’s lingering rosy glow casts everything in a softer light. Given the proliferation of harsh lighting nowadays, both literally and figuratively, I can’t imagine a better moment to receive the quiet miracles performed by Chronicles of a Wandering Saint. —Holly Devon

Monica Sorelle’s directorial debut opens with the Haitian proverb “Deye mon gen mon,” which translates to “Behind mountains are mountains.” This sets the tone for the film and the protagonist, Xavier, played masterfully as the strong, silent type by Atibon Nazaire. Xavier deals with life as a construction worker demolishing his Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti, ceding it to gentrifiers. The conflict between father and son Junior (Chris Renois)—longing immigrant and assimilated progeny, construction worker and standup comedian, old and young—drives much of the story. The parallels between them, from their hardheaded natures to their poor choice of friends, connect the two for the audience and show the strength of the bond, whether they know it or not. Sorelle makes a well-crafted film, with repeating moments building on each other to show change, and hypnotically contemplative takes capturing the everyday life of a tired family living in a vibrant, shifting neighborhood as they try to succeed and evolve in the face of classism and racism. —Carlos Molina

You & I
Summer Shelton does most of the heavy lifting in her first feature You & I, a romance about rekindling and reconsidering lost loves and what might have been. On top of penning her directorial debut, she also stars as Sara, either the You or the I the title speaks of, depending on how you look at it. On a trip back home to Knoxville to celebrate a mutual friend’s birthday, Sara runs into Joseph (Clayne Crawford), and the two tensely reconnect after years apart. An accident of circumstance leaves the two of them alone at his house after the small celebration, and what unfolds feels like a stage play as the former couple descends into the maelstrom of their past relationship. Through long takes and emotional dialogues, Shelton carries a film that leaves the audience questioning the past, present, and future of Sara and Joseph’s love, while pondering the parallels of their own current or former relationships, and other What Ifs. —Carlos Molina

When Morning Comes
Set in Jamaica in 2001, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s feature follows 9-year-old Jamal (Djamari Roberts) as he comes to terms with the fact that his mother is sending him to Toronto to live with his grandmother. As mother and son bounce around running errands in Kingston, we get glimpses into the struggles the widowed Neesha (Shaquana Wilson) experiences while trying to raise Jamal alone. Upon returning home and learning of his impending move (the reason for most of the errands) Jamal runs out of the house to find comfort in his friends, his crush, and his surrogate father figures. On his journey he encounters a bully and receives sound views and perspectives from people he cares about, while reinforcing his lessons on life and death. Through long takes that let the actors breathe with the role and enhance the strength of their performances, Fyffe-Marshall earnestly tackles the universal struggles of growing up and sacrificing your needs for the ones you love. —Carlos Molina

Off Ramp
“What is a Juggalo?” So begins Off Ramp, directed by Nathan Tape, the story of two Juggalos, Trey (Jon Oswald) and Silas (Scott Turner Schofield) trying to make it to the Gathering of the Juggalos. It’s an appropriate starting point for a film that spends a hefty amount of time defining what Juggalos are and are not—Juggalos are family, and you won’t be allowed to forget it. Off Ramp is not for the faint of heart, as it comes with basically every trigger warning in the book, and the film definitely hinges on its violent absurdity, sometimes veering into melodrama with lines like “America: Land of the greed, home of the sheep.” Scott Turner Schofield gives a grounded and warm performance while also providing the most successful comedic deliveries in the film. Maintaining its intended absurdity for the entire runtime is an ambitious endeavor, and it lacks the steam it needs to get us enthusiastically over the finish line—but it’s fun, heartfelt, and you’ll always know what Juggalos stand for after this. —Marisa Clogher

Off Ramp

Waiting for the Light to Change
Writer-director Linh Tran’s debut feature, Waiting for the Light to Change, gives us a look into the lives of five 20-something friends as they get together for a lakeside winter vacation. As with many stories about people in their mid-20s, each friend is going through a different version of the transition to adulthood, and wondering if they’re where they should be, or if they’re doing enough. The film stands out for its use of dialogue, which is both minimal and direct, allowing the young actors’ performances to carry the story through physical expression. Waiting for the Light to Change is a strong debut and a worthy watch for anyone interested in the lives of Gen Z, a generation whose future is understandably uncertain and rife with anxieties. —Paula Ibieta

Before the World Set on Fire
A small class of philosophers at a liberal college must contend with a mysterious school outbreak that leaves them quarantined while navigating intense discussions in their online class on belief, ethics, and moral accountability through a Nietzschean lens. Debates of herd mentality clash with herd immunity here as director Jaclyn Bethany plays on the balance between indoctrination and individual free will, a debate embodied in one student’s actions that the teacher, Anya Davis (Brooke Bloom) must address. From Zoom frames to FaceTime, the modern individual story may look different, but still it cannot be untethered from the collective. The question remains: Are we alone here and to whom do we go for answers? This film examines where a thought left untended can spread and challenges us to ponder: How does one contain human meaning? —Megan Burns

Red Shoes
This Mexican-Italian production, helmed by first time director Carlos Eichelemann Kaiser, borrows the title from an art installation by renowned Mexican artist Elina Chauvet. The installation lays out 300 pairs of red shoes to symbolize and commemorate the disappearance and violent death of countless women in Mexico and around the world. The film follows Tacho (Eustacio Ascacio), an elderly farmer, as he journeys from his rural home to Mexico City to identify the body of his dead daughter. Reminiscent of David Lynch’s The Straight Story, with Tacho encountering numerous obstacles ranging from violence to bureaucracy as he navigates the unfamiliar urban world, Red Shoes also offers glimpses of hope as he helps and receives help from strangers along the way. Most of that aid comes from Damiana (Natalia Solián), a prostitute who guides him in the right direction around town. Long stretches of silence as the main character explores the remnants of his daughter’s life give a surreal sense of curiosity juxtaposed with the harsh, unnecessary violence permanently installed in this world. The audience experiences the culmination of this paradox with two particularly beautiful and powerful scenes from Damiana, one where she shares her own interpretation of seeing stars in a city, and the other being the climactic scene, a dialogue with spectacular cinematography which reveals layers, secrets, and wisdom about the two of them and the world we all inhabit. —Carlos Molina


At 26 years old, Danielle Metz was given a prison sentence of triple-life plus 20 years as a first-time nonviolent offender. Twenty-three years later, her sentence was commuted under the Obama Administration. In this documentary feature, Nailah Jefferson shares Metz’s story, exploring her return home to New Orleans where she’s face-to-face with the city she’s been dreaming about for two decades behind the bars of a California prison. Viewers take a back seat in Metz’s mind as she navigates newfound relationships with her two children, friends, and loved ones in an unfamiliar world that was forced to move on without her. This raw, powerful account poses the question: Can we ever truly make up for lost time? —Sofia M. Bermejo

La Bonga
In another reality, La Bonga, a documentary feature about a community exiled by Colombian paramilitaries from their beloved remote jungle village, might have made an excellent short film. With a 15-minute run time, directors Canela Reyes and Sebastián Pinzón Silva would have had to winnow their footage down to its most poignant moments, permitting the audience to savor shots of the misty rainforest at dawn, fondly recounted memories, and the joyous celebration of a community come home at last. But alas, La Bonga clocks in at 77 long minutes, and its loveliest parts are completely drowned in a sea of unstructured, sluggish footage. Documentary filmmaking is all in the editing; without clear narrative direction even the most interesting subject matter quickly turns deathly dull. And though there is plenty of rich material in La Bonga, the ancestral home of a vibrant Afro-Colombian community whose forbearers first founded the village as a refuge from the plantations surrounding Cartagena, the filmmakers are too steadfastly opposed to exposition to explore it. The pace never picks up, a problem compounded by the fact that we are given almost no information as to what is actually going on. Only at the very end do a couple panels of text reveal anything about the community we have been observing for over an hour, and by then it is too little, bewilderingly too late. —Holly Devon

The Precipice
The Precipice tracks the Pointe-au-Chien tribe’s fight to get federal recognition, and to recover after the eye of Hurricane Ida passes over their town. Four months before the storm, tribe members take the moviemakers out on crabbing boats to look at land that was once solid ground, planted with crops and trees a few decades before, now underwater. Pointe-au-Chien has tried to get federal recognition since the mid-’90s, tracking down historical maps and family records, and enlisting lawyers—all while losing more land every year. When Ida levels most of their houses, they are neglected by U.S. government relief agencies because they have not received recognition. The members decide to rebuild with houses designed to withstand hurricane winds, enlist family for help, and vow to stay. The town being washed away is not inevitable, and not the direct result of rising sea levels, but the impact of leveeing the Mississippi and expanding waterways cut to lay oil and gas pipelines. With the right measures, the process could be stalled or reversed. The film asks how a community can endure without a physical place, and how we decide who is worth protecting. —Alena Cover

Bad Press
Freedom of the press is not a right reserved for Native American tribes, as they are sovereign nations who create their own laws and constitutions. In fact, of the 574 federally-recognized tribes, only five have passed laws protecting freedom of the press. One such tribe is the Muscogee Nation—whose freedom of the press was taken away in 2018. Bad Press, directed by Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler, follows Mvskoke Media, and more specifically the journalist Angel Ellis, as they attempt to change the leadership on their council and guarantee freedom of the press as a constitutional right—making them the only Native American tribe to do so. For those of us entrenched in local politics, it’s a familiar story: big money versus grassroots, threatening politicians versus the reporters trying to tell the truth. The documentary follows from the initial repeal of free press to the results of the election, and it’s a gripping and emotional payoff. At one point Ellis insists, “We need to call ourselves a public relations department if we’re not doing the news.” Bad Press remarkably conveys the urgency and necessity of the free press—and why we must fight for it. —Marisa Clogher

Jude Chehab’s first feature as a director, Q intimately investigates the relationship three generations of Lebanese women in her family have with a mysterious matriarchal Islamic sect. The documentary is less about pulling back the curtain on the clandestine group, and instead focuses on the effect such devotion can have on relationships, as well as the repercussions of what happens when that community ostracizes you. Indeed, not a lot is revealed about the cult-like sect, and that lack of answers can leave the audience to wonder what could instill such devout devotion to a… cause? Organization? Club? Religious order? Even her mother and grandmother don’t seem to have certain knowledge or access to the order, despite their association with it for over 30 years. Ultimately, the documentary is about how their involvement in the sect has affected their ties to each other, their family, and their quest for knowledge, independence, and recognition in a conservative patriarchal society. —Carlos Molina


The Taste of Mango
Chloe Abrahams’s directorial feature is a deeply personal look at her family history, as well as a testament to film’s power to affect the course of its subjects. Told through close-up conversations with her mother and grandmother within the intimate space of their home, as well as Abrahams’s narration of letters to her mother amidst dreamy montages, a complicated, generational saga about trauma and sexual violence emerges. Abrahams’s gentle persistence in helping her mother and grandmother examine painful events is remarkable. Even more extraordinary is how the film’s subjects evolve in unexpected ways as they voice these long-repressed stories. —Paula Ibieta

Mississippi River Styx
Kelly Phillips, a New Jersey man who claims to be suffering from terminal cancer, spends his remaining days riding the Mississippi River in an old houseboat. Along the way, he becomes a minor celebrity, collecting friends and fans as he travels the 2,014 miles of river between Wisconsin and the Louisiana coast. Though he plays humble, Phillips seems to enjoy his celebrity status. He frequents bars and churches, telling his story to everyone who will listen (and gracefully accepting donations from sympathetic parishioners). But as Phillips meets more cancer survivors, they begin comparing their experiences with his. And as facts about his personal life and questions about the legitimacy of his diagnosis float to the surface, his supporters become suspicious. In a narrative film, the near-sinking state of Phillips’ boat—aptly named the “Shameless”—and his reckless descent downriver would have felt like heavy-handed metaphors. But documentarians Tim Grant and Andy McMillan found a real character in Kelly Phillips. And as he tries to stay afloat—literally and figuratively—you can’t help but empathize with him. —Hayden Legg

Razing Liberty Square
Documentarian Katja Esson tackles climate gentrification through the lens of the residents of Liberty Square, a public housing community in Miami located on the highest ground in the city. The documentary explores life for the residents as they deal with impending revitalization of the area into a mixed income and commercial redevelopment. The principal of a local school, a single mother of seven, and a longtime resident who actually works for the urban development company are just some of the voices weighing in on the pros and cons that come with a giant influx of funding designed to completely reimagine and reinvent a community, with roots dating back to the 1930s, that has struggled with poverty and violence for decades. Tensions rise faster than the sea level, and the intimate look into this community will hopefully help the audience question the cost of progress. —Carlos Molina

King Coal
In Appalachia, a place once defined by the coal industry, its people struggle to find a new identity as coal becomes increasingly irrelevant. The camera follows two young descendants of coal miners—Lanie Marsh and Gabrielle Wilson—but the story is told primarily through director and writer Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s beautiful narration. In Sheldon’s home of West Virginia, the specter of coal is ever-present. But with the coal industry in decline, “King Coal” is dead. And when the king dies, what happens to his subjects? Sheldon weaves together history and personal stories, eschewing interviews for narration and natural conversations, to make sense of the complex relationship the people of Appalachia have with coal. While they owe their entire way of life to coal, and it bleeds into every aspect of their culture, coal mining killed their fathers and destroyed the land they call home. It’s visually stunning, and editor Iva Radivojević cuts it all together so forcefully, it feels like she’s controlling nature. It’s a history lesson we all need, and a fascinating view into an overlooked part of America. —Hayden Legg

King Coal

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project
This documentary offers a close-up look at the poet-activist’s life and work, reflecting on her childhood in Tennessee, her father’s abuse, raising her son, New York in the ‘60s, and the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. Current interviews with Giovanni and archival videos of her in her 20s onwards show her recounting personal memories and national events she witnessed in her lifetime. The film also spends time at home with her in the present day: phone calls and doctor’s visits, cooking with her partner Virginia, gardening and playing cards with her granddaughter. Inventive cuts are used to link moments across time—showing younger and older Giovanni musing on the same theme, or layering her reading of a single poem over footage of related but separate events. Watching clips of her at 28 and 80 years-old back-to-back also allows us to see an uncanny continuity in her demeanor. Giovanni has a captivating, can’t-look-away personality. At once bold and calm, abnormally clever and self—assured, she’s certain of both her responsibility to help people and her ability to do it. The movie is thoughtfully, beautifully made, but the subject herself is enough to hold your attention. —Alena Cover

Sexual Healing
Sexual Healing is a deeply intimate exploration of sexuality through the eyes of Evelien, who was born with cerebral palsy. The film follows her as she discusses her frustrations with her limited sexual experiences and begins to explore options to discover and develop deeper intimacy with herself and other partners. With the help of her caregiver, we get to see the difficulties of everyday life, but also venture into the world as she explores a sex shop and eventually an appointment with a sex surrogate. Vacillating between humorous perspectives and an emotional intensity, Evelien allows us to follow her into a profoundly personal portion of her life while she deconstructs and reconstructs her notions of intimacy, sexuality, and identity. —Carlos Molina


Beulah (Betsy Borrego) is a young woman caring for her sick mother (Troi Bechet). When an alien with healing powers crash-lands nearby, Beulah goes to desperate lengths to use the discovery to her advantage. Director Samantha Aldana communicates a lot in seven minutes, thanks in part to a very economical script by Parsons Twesten and the unhurried work of cinematographer Nick Shamblott. Each shot lingers for the perfect amount of time, allowing us to soak in every bit of context and showing just enough of the already-convincing visual effects work. —Hayden Legg

The Mississippi Delta Chinese community is one of the largest and oldest immigrant communities in the South. Raymond (Sean Choi) and Phoebe Lee (Zoe Lam) are brother and sister living with their mother in the Mississippi Delta. While Phoebe prepares to leave for college, her relationship with Raymond has soured as he’s taken stewardship over their family’s business, keeping a promise to his late father. Shot in Greenville, Mississippi, director and screenwriter Jing Ai Ng pulls you into an emotionally dense 16 minutes of the atmospheric rural town, excelling at telling a story about coming of age too quickly. Faced with difficult relationship choices, Phoebe decides who will remain in her future. Delta evokes an impending feeling of a tether about to be cut, whether that may be freeing or dreadful (or both). Its premise is rooted in the responsibilities that can come after loss, particularly about the choices we don’t expect or ask to make. —Van Le

This psychological horror short from Ghanaian filmmaker Edem Dotse follows the titular character (played by Mary Ackwerh), a meek young woman who struggles with feelings of jealousy toward her friend Rita (Gadede Aku Segbefia), who uses Doris to complete her school assignments. Doris wishes she had Rita’s life and, one night, mysterious masked figures appear to help make that dream a reality. There may be some subtext unique to West African culture, but the emotions are universal, the performances are believable, and director of photography Sebastián Valdivieso (Men in Blue) captures it well. —Hayden Legg

Fck’n Nuts
As Sandy (Maddie Nichols) falls deeper in love with the boy of her dreams (Vincent Stalba), she’s faced yet again with a situation from her worst nightmares, a familiar story that’s only ever ended in disaster: introducing him to her parents. While meeting the parents is naturally intimidating, Sandy’s set of circumstances is a little nuttier than most, to say the least. She knows how this will play out; they’ll surely scare him off. How will she avert him from meeting her truly bizarre family? Sandy is forced to make a trivial decision and play with the fate of her relationship. Sam Fox’s Fck’n Nuts is a mind-bending horror-comedy full of seat-gripping surprises, ethereal visuals, and painfully awkward moments—a perfect medley of chaos. —Sofia M. Bermejo

The comedy short Freaks plays out like a series of vignettes stitched together with witty banter and a shared location: the bathroom at a Halloween party. But a narrative emerges when Julia (Courtney Parchman) runs into her unfaithful ex-boyfriend Sean (Sean Koetting), and the two drunkenly reconcile. Unfortunately, Sean’s new girlfriend—also named Julia (also Courtney Parchman)—is at the party too. It’s up to the Julias to decide if they want to fight over Sean or stand up for themselves. —Hayden Legg

I Wanna Become the Sky
What’s a tattoo appointment without a little tattoo artist therapy? In their short film, co-director and screenwriter Jess X. Snow portrays the main character who is afraid of letting people get too close or else other people get hurt. They confess to possessing a mystical power since birth, haunting their past and relationship with their mother. However, the tattoo artist, who shares this inner fire, explains that this burning secret can be twisted by self-sabotage, when it’s actually a source of liberation instead. Snow describes the film as a migrant dystopian fantasy, representing a queer diasporic community grappling with personal identities often weaponized by white supremacist culture. Alongside co-director traci kato-kiriyama, the duo bring an on-screen self-awareness to the model minority myth that can twist ethnic cultures into a source of shame, while also demonstrating that intimate and vulnerable connections can start healing and transforming that shame, to the point that it burns. —Van Le

In An Orderly Fashion
This dark comedy short blurs the lines between narrative and documentary. Adrian Cardenas directs his own parents, Juan Cardenas and Aida Rubio, to play fictionalized versions of themselves. He cuts together real home videos with scenes of his parents in their Florida home as they argue over Juan’s wishes to be euthanized in the event his illness becomes too unbearable to live with. The comedy comes through in the interactions between the parents, but the narration confuses the tone. Nevertheless, Cardenas and director of photography Lorena Duran deliver some beautifully composed shots. —Hayden Legg

Mucho, Mucho Amor
This Spanish-language short by director Mariano Dongo follows Elizabeth, a middle-aged woman who works in a kitchen and is seeking connection as she goes through life mostly alone. The story is centered around a work party; while the band isn’t able to make it, her boss promises the staff that they’re going to have a good time regardless. The film’s juxtaposition of palpable loneliness, an unfulfilled bid for connection, and Elizabeth’s stoic return to work after the party, leaves the viewer with a wistful ache —Paula Ibieta

Nervous Breakdown In A Floral Dress
From writer-director Caydon LiRocchi comes this short film about a woman whose self and reality seems to break down before her eyes. She has moved in with her harried partner and his young son, in their home still brimming with another woman’s decor and family photos. In an attempt to establish her sense of self, she shares an old home video only to realize she may not be the person she thought she was. Through rich, colorful visuals, this surreal short asks us to consider the elements that make us ourselves, from our bodies to our possessions, clothes, and homes, as well as how time may change those things once thought immutable. —Paula Ibieta

original skin
In this science fiction short, sex causes people to swap bodies with their partners. Bea (Sorcha Groundsell), a young woman sequestered by a conservative sororal community, breaks the taboo of “swapping” on a clandestine night out. If she’s to be accepted back into her community, she needs to return to her “original skin.” Director Mdhamiri á Nkemi and writer Eve Hedderwick Turner create an expansive world in a short runtime. The premise is unique and thought-provoking, but the short doesn’t go much further than its synopsis, though it does promise a very interesting world outside the bounds of this story. If this were proof of concept for a feature film, I’d be first to buy tickets. —Hayden Legg

Rest Stop
Director and writer Crystal Kayiza dedicates Rest Stop to the formative memories of her own childhood when she took the very same bus route with her mother and young siblings from New York to Oklahoma. Meyi (Leeanna E. Tushabe), a young Ugandan-American girl, is the focal point of the film as viewers follow her journey in middle America. Meyi’s distant gaze, onlooking bypassing scenery or her mother’s conversations, exhibits her maturing resolve against uncertainty and understanding the gravitas of a parent’s choices. A love letter to the inherent bond between mother and daughter, Kayiza’s film encapsulates apprehension to change, support relationships, and the necessity of finding respite in loved ones, as often as needed. —Van Le

Return to Youth (回春)
Bing (Xiaobing Zhao) can’t help but feel overly self-conscious of her age. As a woman in her 50s, she is constantly reminded that life seems to move faster around her. She is always trading jeers with the motorists who overtake her on the freeway, and she is surrounded by younger students at the dance studio. Director, screenwriter, and co-editor Mel Sangyi Zhao sets up Bing’s inciting incident at her routine massage and facial treatment appointment when she is given a choice to accept an “intimacy rejuvenation” vaginal treatment program. Actor Zhao’s sharp portrayal of an older woman isolated by inadequacy brings to the screen what aging Asian women consistently deal with internally: beauty norms, sexual stigma, and the endless pursuit of youth. That is, until Bing realizes that youth is not about being sold products or looking a certain way, but instead the cherishable moments of joy sometimes hidden in plain view. —Van Le

Return to Youth

A Roadside Banquet
This fantastical short feature from director Peiqi Peng explores the silent heartache of a neglected daughter. At her beloved brother’s first birthday party, 11-year-old Mai does her best to cope with the lack of attention she receives from her parents and family (a few of whom deign only to comment on her weight). She shows genuine affection and love to her baby brother, and participates eagerly in the showering of attention upon the long-awaited male child, but it’s not enough. Once her parents reveal over lunch that they only ever wanted a boy, Mai’s body reacts in an unexpected way—she starts sprouting feathers and soon transforms into a feather duster. Much of A Roadside Banquet, like its protagonist, moves along in an understated tone, which serves to make the scenes of fantasy more poignant. —Paula Ibieta

Serious Play
When a 38-year-old fire dancer-juggler-performer gets pregnant by the mime she roasted at her comedy show, what’s a girl to do? Such are the circumstances in which Payel Gupta (Sonal Aggarwal) finds herself in Serious Play, directed by Kate Mason and Lindsey Phillips. It begins as what appears to be a mockumentary on Payel and her various performance and circus-related jobs; but as she welcomes the film club into her bathroom and discovers the pregnancy test she has forgotten about is positive, the focus shifts. Some of the acting by the supporting cast can feel scripted and rehearsed, but Aggarwal’s magnetic performance renders any stiffness moot. She is equally affecting in its comedic moments and its sincere ones—from security camera footage of being seduced by a mime to an ardent speech about the healing power of movement and performance. —Marisa Clogher

Sèt Lam
This magical, moody, black and white piece by director Vincent Fontano is set on a stunning island. Here a little girl, played by Sihame Saïd Ouma, fears the death of those she cherishes. To calm her, her grandmother (Françoise Guimbert) tells her the story of Edwardo, played by Nicolas Moucazambo. Edwardo learns the secrets of the sea and manages to escape the exquisite god of death (Nadjani Bullin). However, death gives him insurmountable pain in return, and they dance in battle for his soul. During this dance Edwardo learns a great lesson that is passed on through his progeny and now the public. —Deanna Larmeu

Sisters of the Rotation
A peculiar order of nuns make their home amidst a picturesque snowbank in this short written and directed by the Zarazir Brothers. These sisters hold the apocalypse at bay through the labor of cranking a wheel. However, Sister Zeina, played by Zeina Sfeir, is unlike the other nuns. She has not yet been given the privilege of hearing God’s voice while sleeping in the crypt. Mother Superior (Betty Taoutel) requires that soon she be doomed to a deep pit. While hunting the nearby priests for trophies, Zeina makes a discovery that grants her the ability to doubt everything she has been taught. —Deanna Larmeu

What They Found
Two Black men (played by Marc Pouhé and John Merriman) walk along a riverbank as cicadas lazily chirp in the background in this short, written and directed by Ryan Darbonne. Intent on enjoying their day off fishing and playing games in each other’s company their jovial banter is abruptly interrupted—the dead body of a white man comes into view. Set some time in the past before phones were small enough to fit in a pocket, the solution is not simple. The duo realize they have contrasting opinions on how to address the situation. With a complex relationship to the culture of the deceased and how society may treat their discovery, their exchange begins as a bit of a sermon from each. As time progresses the discourse becomes more down to earth and cruel. This piece is an interesting perspective on the effect human beings have on one another due to perceived differences. It displays how some things evolve while others remain unchanged. —Deanna Larmeu


Addresses (Direcciones)
You’ve probably given directions like this: “Turn left at the 7/11 and drive until you hit the train tracks…” But what if that string of directions and reference points was your actual address? What if that’s what the mail carrier read every time they delivered you a letter? María Luisa Santos’s documentary short explores this complex tradition of addresses in Costa Rica—or lack of—through her own personal narration and the guiding, sometimes disorienting, camerawork of her co-director Carlo Nasisse. What we find is that, logistics nightmare aside, this seemingly mundane system of direction-giving has become a kind of poetry and a way for the people of Costa Rica to stay connected to their past in an ever-changing landscape. —Hayden Legg

after angola
Three men who served time in Angola Prison attempt to unpack the trauma caused by decades behind bars and reintegrate into society. This humanizing short brings viewers into the men’s peer support sessions, where they discuss the lesser-recognized difficulties that they continue to navigate years after being released from prison. They discuss trouble sleeping next to loving wives who want to cuddle, strange bathroom habits developed out of fear of stabbings, and the difficult process of mourning loved ones who passed before they could be free again. In some cases, the men themselves don’t even recognize the way that time behind bars has shaped their interactions with a world the prison failed to prepare them to return to. after angola reminds viewers that prisoners’ sentences live on far past their release dates. —William Archambeault

Chokehole: Drag Wrestlers do Deutschland
This documentary follows local institution Choke Hole as its impressive group of drag wrestlers duke it out in Germany. Spectacular footage showcases the performers’ ridiculous props and bold costumes in all their glory as they wrestle for supremacy on the mat 5,000 miles from home. This documentary shows us a human-sized bug throwing a massive pile of fake poop and there’s even a giant Hand Grenade-shaped bong, but this short does more than just bask in the absurdity of Choke Hole. Interviews and behind-the-scenes footage showcase performers’ powerful reflections on what it means to be on stage, as well as their own thoughts on gender and sexuality. Some performers also draw attention to a concerning contrast between the event’s humble origins in New Orleans and its warm reception in Germany. “It’s funny how like here, we’re being celebrated and funded, whereas in New Orleans we literally can only do it illegally… People don’t see crazy queer wrestling as art, especially in America,” reflects one performer. —William Archambeault

There is a lot to love in this documentary short that follows Texan legacy barrel racer Krishaun Adair and her young daughter as they prepare for the rodeo. Barrel racing (in which riders gallop around a triangular setup of barrels in a test of speed and agility) is always exciting, and it is a pleasure watching Adair bring her superb horsemanship to the sport. As a Black rodeo rider, Adair is as focused on the bigger picture as she is on her individual success, and the film shows the way her infectious passion for the culture has helped her build up a formidable Black Texan rodeo community around her. Director Chase Musslewhite pays attention to the meaning in the quiet moments, beautifully illustrating how rodeo riding can become a way of life. But perhaps the film’s best feature is the window it offers onto the relationship between Adair and her bright, precocious daughter. With quiet strength and patient mothering she teaches her daughter that to be a cowgirl is to possess tenacity, strong character, and a commitment to the reciprocity that binds all living things. —Holly Devon


The Crawfish Trap
This short offers an intimate look at Paul Heinen and his crawfish farm as he prepares for retirement. When Heinen first began farming crawfish in the mid-1970s, his motives were simple: He and his wife just liked to eat them a lot. Quickly, Heinen’s modest endeavor grew into a lifelong pursuit. He reflects on the joyful moments, as well as the many hardships—including physical ailments from a life of hard labor, difficulties finding workers, and periods of economic instability. “We don’t get rich at farming but it’s a good living,” reflects Heinen. “I like farming and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” —William Archambeault

We follow director Mariah Hernandez-Fitch’s maw maw Rose Fitch and paw paw Adam Fitch. From their cozy, swamp-surrounded home in Dulac, Louisiana, they give step-by-step instructions on how they make a pot of chicken and sausage filé gumbo. Speaking in honeyed Cajun accents they tell us of their past. Some New Orleanians may know the struggles their French speaking ancestors endured while living on the Bayou; the Fitches are the same, yet their story diverges. Part of the native Houma tribe, they have endured unique hardships and thrive in spite of them. —Deanna Larmeu

This short, from director Kelsey Scult and producer Marion Forbes, explores the art of baking bread within a context that expands and contracts, from the elemental to the universal. Baker Julian Lopez’s unscripted musings accompany slow-moving montages of dough, hands, water, fire, and the natural landscape, contemplating where the impulse to create fits into the human experience. KNEAD is a love letter to baking as a practice that provides a reprieve from life’s trauma, giving the baker a new perspective on shaping their own small corner of the world as the world shapes them. —Paula Ibieta

Orange From Memory
A dissatisfied narrator stumbles across artist Kate, who paints derivatives of Garfield for a living. The artist doesn’t have a great affinity for the character and commissions can even lean toward fan service. For Kate it is more about an association with the color orange. Friends and family of the designer discuss various emotions associated with Garfield, ‘80s cartoons, whether they like cats or dogs more, their feelings about the other animated orange cat, Heathcliff, and how orange items have been acquired. Then, we get a peek into the narrator’s associations with orange, including a montage that depicts everything from graceful koi to the lowly traffic cone. —Deanna Larmeu

The River We Bleed
“We’re very aware of the power of the Mississippi River. If we don’t respect it, it makes us respect it,” reflects Jules Cote, one of the residents of the dwindling communities outside of New Orleans’ levees. The River We Bleed (directed by Julian Caballero) offers an up-close look at these communities and their hardship through the guided assistance of Cote and Sid Snow, both of whom have resided alongside the river for decades. “You cut open my vein, you’re gonna smell river,” boasts Snow. The two share concerns about the ways the area’s geography has changed in recent years as floods become less common due to the eroding river. They also vent frustrations about their interactions with Entergy and the Corps of Engineers. Throughout it all, they make it clear how much they cherish the lifestyles they have alongside the Mississippi. —William Archambeault

Savi the Cat
This is the charming true story of how one rambunctious kitten upends a couple’s life and relationship. Netsanet Tjirongo and Bryan Tucker are the directors, writers, and producers behind this documentary feature that juxtaposes interview footage of partners Ken and Kaila with an animated retelling of how they brought an orange kitten named Savi into their home, only to start fighting shortly after about Savi’s destruction of their furniture, walls, and general sense of peace in the home. Savi the Cat starts off slowly, but once it takes off, it’s impossible to not want to find out how Ken, Kaila, and the unforgettable Savi end up. —Paula Ibieta

Director Rudy Valdez follows Harye, Densel, and Virginia, who are among the 11 million children in the United States serving as their families’ primary translators. Harye, Densel, and Virginia share the experience of coming to the United States as children, accompanied by parents who left behind established careers and families in search of political stability and better economic and educational opportunities. The maturity of all three young people, who range from ages 11 to 16, is striking. They seem acutely aware of the gravity of their role as they’re thrust into sometimes odd situations, such as when Densel translates his own parent-teacher conference. Translators shows that being the family mediator is more complex than it may appear—while these children’s responsibilities can verge on excessive, the beauty in the family bonds, as well as their perception of their present lives and futures in their adopted country, is undeniable. —Paula Ibieta


Talking about how hard it is to be in your 20s is part of being in your 20s, and there is no shortage of art about it. With this deluge of stories around the subject, how does one break through the noise? Written and directed by Flóra Anna Buda, 27 tells the story of Alice (Natasa Stork), who has been in a serious bike accident after doing drugs at a club with her friend. Alice’s characterization is unsurprising: A titular-aged woman living with her parents, unable to get her life together, masturbating to scandalous scenarios at the risk of being caught, dancing naked in the face of her messy life. The animation style is indeed captivating, with its vibrant, stocky images capturing the electric and confusing emotional landscape of dragging your feet into adulthood in such an unforgiving world. But by the end, the question “Does this break through the noise?” circles back; I’m not sure that it does. —Marisa Clogher

A whimsical postcolonial queer fantasy set in pre-colonial Hawaii, Aikane is the second animated short from directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson (joined for this film by animator Daniel Sousa) to spotlight gender and sexuality in native Hawaiian culture. The word “aikane” was used by native Hawaiians to refer to committed friendships between two members of the same sex, one of many formalized affinities in the Pacific Islanders’ complex kinship system with no Western equivalent. In this short, the term is applied to a Little Mermaid-esque romance between a native warrior and a mystical man-being with the power to transform into an octopus. According to the filmmakers, Aikane takes place in an “imaginary world that also drew from myths and legends, places and peoples across space and time,” which explains why viewers won’t be leaving the film with any more knowledge about native Hawaiian culture than they had before. But for those rooting for more diverse stories to be cast in the monocultural Disney mold, this tale of queer love conquering all—even European colonialism—ought to hit the spot. —Holly Devon


Beneath the Concrete, The Forest
In the city of Atlanta, Georgia, lies the largest contiguous urban forest in the United States—the location of crucial wetlands, breeding grounds for various amphibians, and home to a dark past and warped history. What happens, though, when such a sacred site is constantly at risk of losing itself entirety? In Beneath the Concrete, The Forest director Lev Omelchenko examines efforts to stop the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest led by the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement. As the Atlanta Police Department aims to create the most extensive police training facility in the country in place of the woodland, activists and Weelaunee lovers alike long to save the forest from an avoidable death. Composed of poetry, video footage, and even anonymous letters, the inspiring experimental short presents a captivating glimpse into a movement unwilling to back down from a cause close to their hearts. —Sofia M. Bermejo

Boat People
The small-but-mighty ant serves as the central metaphor for Boat People, the animated short named for the generic term used to describe Vietnam War refugees who fled by sea. Director Thao Lam adapts her book, The Paper Boat, with animator Kjell Boersma to narrate her own family’s perilous journey and heartbreak as Vietnamese immigrants through stunning paper-textured animation. Lam builds the insectile metaphor through common themes of survival and community, self-processing the resolve it took for hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees like her parents to withstand impossible odds. —Van Le

Childhood (Thời Thơ Ấu)
“I want to ask you something, Mẹ,” says creator Vi Tuong Bui, opening her experimental short film, as she seeks to understand her parents, Tuan and Lan Bui, outside of being immigrants and parents. Her parents recount the heartache of being separated from their parents because of the war, living without them, and bittersweet memories of their hometown. Shot in 16mm film, the short feels like flipping through an old photo book where the images move, shift, and shimmer, capturing a sad, surreal serenity, accompanied by audio of the dinner table-esque conversation. In the film, the family converses in Vietnamese, highlighting the importance of shared language when fostering understanding. Together, Bui and her bố (father) slowly sound out thời thơ ấu, the word for childhood. “This word is really important,” he says in Vietnamese, stressing the meaningfulness of this expression. But translating each individual word cannot fully capture its nuance, much like Bui’s parents, who are themselves deeply nuanced people. The film explores their characters beyond their traumas and hardships and as humans seeking a better life than what they were forced into. —Van Le

Christopher at Sea
This animated short from Tom C. J. Brown follows Christopher (Jocelyn Si) as he embarks on a transatlantic journey as a passenger on a French cargo ship. What starts as a quiet trip to New York quickly spirals out of control when Christopher develops a sexual obsession with one of the ship’s crew. Brown tells the story with a mixture of animation styles, employing sparkly seascapes, blotchy textures, and squiggly outlines. In the beginning, it moves at a quiet pace like a Ralph Bakshi film. But as the obsession grows, the animation becomes more psychedelic. It’s dreamy and contemplative with a unique animation style and some beautifully rendered scenes. —Hayden Legg

first disappearances
In this animated short, viewers get a peek behind the curtain of what it’s like to be arrested for the first time. The mashup of interviews from various people—some convicted, some exonerated—rehashes their stories from the moment of their arrest through the end of that first time they see a judge. The unique animation style bolsters the powerful words spoken by the subjects, and leaves the audience moved and questioning the dehumanization of people when they are labeled as criminals. —Carlos Molina

How to Make Sourdough Bread
Danielle Adelman teaches us How to Make Sourdough Bread in this narrative short… but something is off. She appears distraught and begins to deliver strange and disturbing lines in the same tone and cadence as the rest of her instructions. And as her sanity slips, director and editor Michael Roberson underscores her descent with distorted music, innocuous footage that feels menacing, and a meandering camera that often seems to forget where it’s supposed to be looking. It may start like a recording of an old public access cooking program, but it ends up being a neat piece of surreal horror. —Hayden Legg

Mooncake (pictured at top) has longing built into its framework. Our protagonist (Kennie Zhou) reflects on their past English teacher, and the awakening that blossomed within them in terms of gender and sexuality. The film flits through techniques quickly in its 12-minute runtime, shifting between collaged images and videos, dollhouse sets, and vaudeville performances that leave the viewer unable to settle into anything for too long. Our protagonist bikes around town in a blur, reads themself into every character at their English teacher’s dinner table, performs momentously alongside her in black and white, and asks, “Did I want to be her? Her husband? Her son?” This ephemeral form matches the film’s thematic strokes—the dizziness, playfulness, and transience of parsing who we are and what we want. Mooncake wants you to feel every shifting and contradictory moment. —Marisa Clogher

The 34th New Orleans Film Festival will take place in-person November 2 through 7, and virtually through November 12. For more info, check out


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