ROLL CAMERA: AG PICKS FOR THE 2018 NEW ORLEANS FILM FESTIVAL


The 29th annual New Orleans Film Festival marks a very special occasion for Louisiana cinephiles. Over nine days in October, NOFF attendees will have the opportunity to see more than 200 innovative contemporary films, at multiple venues throughout the city. With a global lineup of documentaries, narrative features, animated shorts, and experimental vignettes spanning from Afghanistan to our very own Atchafalaya Basin, this year’s abundance of offerings might seem downright intimidating. We’ve done our best to help by stuffing our faces full of popcorn and watching with wild abandon just some of the many films featured, in order to provide you with our top picks (as well as a few interviews). Dim the lights, please!


DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

THE ARREST
For those fortunate enough to have never been arrested, it’s perhaps hard to imagine how it might feel to have one’s freedom revoked by police. What’s it like to be handcuffed and placed in a cell? The Arrest (directed by Kira Akerman) directly confronts this question, drawing on the personal account of a young Black woman held in a Louisiana jail for five days. The film’s execution is straightforward and its subject matter somber. The pensive narrator’s story, acute and affecting, leaves no doubt of the trauma that all too often accompanies young Black peoples’ experiences with police. From initially being placed behind bars with two other men, to an eventual mental breakdown days later and a disturbing encounter with the warden, The Arrest makes for a tense viewing experience. (World premiere, Saturday, October 20 at the CAC; Monday, October 22 at the New Orleans Advocate) —Andru Okun

FALL RIVER
Directed by Jamil McGinnis and Pat Heywood, this film was shot in Fall River, Massachusetts, a hardscrabble port city ranked fifth in a 2016 USA Today list titled “50 Worst Places To Live.” In spite of bleak statistics, Fall River is a tender and intimate exploration of the relationship between place, home, and memory. Equal parts playful and plaintive, a phone conversation between a grandson and his grandmother serves as the aural foreground to a compilation of 16mm film and old home videos. It’s reminiscent of the type of nostalgia one might experience sitting in a relative’s living room while viewing scenes from childhood through scraps of VHS. The film also speaks to loss, in this case of a mother and a daughter, and of gratitude and perseverance, without being too sentimental. When the grandson asks his grandmother if she thinks Fall River is special, her answer is an unambiguous “no.” “It’s just a place,” she says. (Friday, October 19 at the New Orleans Advocate; Tuesday, October 23 at the CAC) —Andru Okun

KARUKÉRA BLUES
Director Pierre Huberson retells the rich indigenous history of his native Guadeloupe and surrounding islands, using the deep-rooted contradictions of post-colonial Caribbean identification: “While my mouth speaks English, and my brain thinks French, my heart beats Creole.” Visually, we are led through the past monuments of colonial power: old towers now overrun with trees and vines, centuries-old cathedrals still busy with psalms. Karukéra Blues plays like a memoir that reminisces on a land left behind, but remains forever in one’s blood. (World premiere, Sunday, October 21 at The Broad Theater; Tuesday, October 23 at the CAC) —Nathan Tucker

ROOM 140
After being released from immigrant detention, detainees are given a one-night stay at a motel in Oakland with the help of Pastor Gomez, who reminds us that even the smallest of advantages can be used for the good of others. Room 140 (directed by Priscilla Gonzalez Sainz) is a delicate look at the humanity still left inside of Latinx immigrants after being held in horrific conditions. Many of the individuals documented don’t know how to react when they are given a room to themselves; they attempt to cleanse themselves of the traumatic process. This 11 minute short gives us a powerful reminder of how defeating the process of migration is for many Mexican and Central American youth. It is a heart-breaking but non-intrusive look at post-border America, through the anonymous voices of those brave enough to leave their homes behind and search for a new one in the United States. (Thursday, October 18 and Monday, October 22 at the New Orleans Advocate) —Gabby Garcia-Steib

SANTUARIO
Similar to the story of New Orleans’ own Jose Torres, who held sanctuary in a church with the help of Congreso de Jornaleros for seven months, Juana Luz Tobar Ortega is the first woman to ever hold sanctuary in North Carolina. Ortega is a Guatemalan woman who has been in the United States since 1993. After fleeing guerrilla threats, and in search of medical care for her daughter, she came to the U.S. to provide a better life for her family. In Santuario (directed by Christine Delp and Pilar Timpane) we are given a glimpse of Ortega’s life as she remains in sanctuary in a Greensboro church, and how she rejects the dehumanizing process of deportation. (Saturday, October 20 at the CAC; Monday, October 22 at the New Orleans Advocate) —Gabby Garcia-Steib

SISTER HEARTS
Maryam Henderson Uloho assists her fellow ex-offenders transitioning back into society by housing them and giving them a job at her thrift shop, Sister Hearts. Director Mohammad Gorjestani approaches this documentary short like a conversation: he presents how individuals like Maryam build and create communities in otherwise desperate and foundationless situations, exploring the inherent pitfalls of the ex-criminal class. Maryam not only rose and conquered the challenges that befell her after being free, but she continues to uplift and inspire other women who come from similar situations. The use of black and white throughout the documentary makes the story feel harder, and more distant. (Sunday, October 21 and Wednesday, October 24 at the CAC) —Nathan Tucker

THE WORMWOOD STAR
In a small Ukrainian village empty of people—apart from a 79-year-old mother and her 62-year-old son—remnants of lives once lived speak to the terrible misfortune that befell the place. The filmmaker’s own grandmother and father were among those forced to leave following the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in 1986, their former home now “grown over after the accident.” The absence of people is coupled with the often occurrence of wildfires, imperilling the village’s last remaining residents. This short documentary (directed by Adelina Borets) is a mournful study of homeland and loneliness, of children leaving the old, and the old passing away. It encapsulates the lives of two people living essentially in isolation, waiting for others to return to a place consigned to oblivion. (U.S. premiere, Friday, October 19 at the New Orleans Advocate; Tuesday, October 23    at the CAC) —Andru Okun

LOUISIANA SHORTS

THE BASIN
The Atchafalaya Basin is the setting for this short Louisiana film (directed by Ian Spencer Cook) documenting the grave threat posed to the region’s environment and culture by the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline slated to stretch 162 miles through eleven Louisiana parishes, at an estimated cost of $670 million. The ongoing destruction of natural resources throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region is one of the country’s most devastating illustrations of the petrochemical industry’s short-sighted greed. The Basin documents some of the repercussions facing the Atchafalaya Basin—the nation’s largest river swamp and a primary source for crawfish harvesting—due to current pipeline construction. The film is centered around Ben Bienvenu, a third-generation crawfisherman and vice-president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association. “They destroyed our culture,” he says in reference to the pipelines haphazardly cutting through the swamps. “They destroyed everything we worked for all our life.” The message of the film is dire, a distressing reminder of what’s at stake and what’s already been lost in an ecologically distinct region growing ever more precarious. (World premiere, Tuesday, October 23 at the Prytania Theatre; Thursday, October 25 at the CAC) —Andru Okun

LOCKED
A brief and engaging documentary surveying prominent components of the region’s ill-fated infrastructure, Locked (directed by Patrick and Daneeta Loretta Jackson) is a valuable history lesson and a resolute call to action. In the twelve-minutes comprising Locked, urban ecologist Josh Lewis provides a succinct explanation of the New Orleans’ Industrial Canal. Along with Lewis’ account of what he deems “one of the biggest failures in urban planning in American history,” he also describes the failures of MR-GO, a doomed Army Corps of Engineers project constructed in the mid-20th century that ultimately resulted in catastrophic flooding and 44,000 acres of wetland loss by the time of its official closure by Congress in 2007. Locked calls attention to the big water planning decisions made a century ago and their current day consequences. The insightful short film also scrutinizes the Army Corps’ plans to replace the Industrial Canal Lock, a project Lewis states will cost about a billion dollars and take 13 years to complete. (World premiere, Tuesday, October 23 at the Prytania Theatre; Thursday, October 25 at the CAC) —Andru Okun

CARIBBEAN VOICES

BLACK MOTHER
Black Mother is a mesmerizing, eccentric, atmospheric collage of life. Director Khalik Allah gives us access to an experimental, chaotic portrait of Jamaica—its colonial and spiritual history, textures, abundance, and fruits—grounded in the figure of the Black gestating woman. There is a leveling-out that comes from within the chaos of this striking experimental documentary form. It pulls images and sounds from the streets, where so much is gained: livelihood, sustenance, vice, God. We see life and its effect on bodies. Khalik Allah’s casual nature captures his subjects in a form which rejects a cohesive or homogeneous narrative. (Presented with community partner Shotgun Cinema, Thursday, October 18 and Friday, October 19 at the CAC) —Saint Agatha

DOCUMENTARY FEATURES

GIMME A FAITH
Microwaved pizza rolls. Churches around every corner. Dreary twelve-lane highways. This is not what many Chinese international students expect America to feel like when they arrive. Over a quarter million Chinese students are currently enrolled in American colleges, and many report feelings of isolation and loneliness. Gimme a Faith (directed by Hao Zhang) follows a class of Chinese freshmen at the University of North Carolina on their quest for belonging. Perhaps a requiem for Zhang’s own lonely experiences as an international student, he befriends a group of roommates and profiles them as they find community in a local chapter of Evangelical Christians. (World premiere, Saturday, October 20 at the New Orleans Advocate; Monday, October 22 at the CAC) —A.T. Callaghan

UNITED SKATES
If you’ve ever made it out to Skate Country Westbank on a Thursday night, you likely don’t need to be convinced to see a feature-length documentary about the contemporary history of roller skating and the rinks that foster the subculture. For the unacquainted, United Skates (directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown) would make for a great introduction to this awe-inspiring pastime. Not merely a showcase of fancy maneuvers (although there’s plenty to keep the viewer sufficiently captivated) the film takes a thorough look at skating through a sociopolitical lens, examining how issues like racial segregation, discriminatory policing, and urban rezoning have impacted and shaped the roller skating community. A large chunk of hip-hop culture is also wrapped up in this story, as roller rinks were where acts like N.W.A., Queen Latifah, and Salt-N-Pepa got their start. This compelling documentary, which has been raking up accolades at various film festivals, is definitely one of the standout films of this year’s fest. (Saturday, October 20 at the CAC) —Andru Okun

CHANGE-MAKERS

BLOWIN’ UP
Directed by Stephanie Wang-Breal, Blowin’ Up is a look into the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, New York, which battles indictments of sex workers who are victims of apathetic and racist vice police. Slow like life itself, the film makes the viewer feel the looming wrath of law enforcement and follows counselors attempting to intervene in abusive policies as their clients cycle through options. There are a few moments where clients facing prostitution charges speak for themselves about their condition in an unforced way, pointing to the common occlusion of a sex worker’s actual situation while being subjected to desperate sting operations. The viewer becomes privy to intimacies: to decisions, to death, to language barriers. This thoughtful feature displays how drastically our lives can change due to government policy, and it does so naturally—through unrushed lines of questions that expose how many more questions may never be asked, by revealing how rarely we speak to people engaged in sex work, and finally, by exposing how out of touch common narratives around sex trafficking are. (Sunday, October 21 and Monday, October 22 at the CAC) —Saint Agatha

CALL HER GANDA
Jennifer Laude, a Filipina trans woman, was murdered in October 2014 by U.S. Marine Joseph Pemberton. That is the basic premise of Call Her Ganda (directed by PJ Raval). What follows is a timeless tale of colonialism and misogyny, and the intersection of the two. The Philippines, a former colony of the United States, is still reeling from its past and attempting to find its own cultural and political sovereignty. Laude’s killing ignited a firestorm within the country surrounding ideas of gender identity, feminism, and the rights of Filipinos under neocolonialist rule. The longstanding VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) allowed Pemberton protections under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government which, to this day, Filipinos feel treats them as second class citizens. The murder of Laude was the second time these protections have been enacted, the first also occurring in the Subic Bay. Three Marines walked free in that instance, while Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was the only person convicted of rape. Call Her Ganda is provocative, but will no doubt do great service to LGBT people in the Philippines and abroad. (Saturday, October 20 at the New Orleans Advocate) —Corey Cruse

LOUISIANA FEATURES

BUCKJUMPING
Taking its name from the term used to describe when a horse tries to unseat its rider, Buckjumping is the perfect love letter to all of the different styles of dance that exist in New Orleans. Throughout the film, locals like Mia X and DJ Jubilee tell their stories, complimented with beautiful footage of school dancers during Mardi Gras, social clubs preparing for the second line, and late night bounce dancers twerking. Director Lily Keber (Bayou Maharajah) not only shows all the different forms of dancing that thrive in New Orleans, but also the communities that keep these movements going, making this a must-watch for those who have and want to participate in the local community. (World premiere, Sunday, October 21 at the Orpheum Theater) —Brandon Lattimore

MISSISSIPPI MADAM: THE LIFE OF NELLIE JACKSON
Funded by a Kickstarter, Mississippi Madam: The Life of Nellie Jackson (directed by Mark Brockway and Timothy Givens) tells the fascinating story of a brothel in Natchez that operated aboveground for decades; but the film suffers from some technical problems. The audio and visual quality is distractingly inconsistent. The story is told via an overabundance of colorful, but repetitive, interviews and a few archival documents and photos. Miss Nellie was a Black woman who ran a successful business by cunningly endearing herself to politicians and sheriffs, and was a generous philanthropist, superlative neighbor, and civil rights warrior. The interviewees (whose anecdotes constitute the sole narration) are a motley bunch: former mayors, cops, an Irish Catholic priest, a wily old bartender, the brothel’s loyal clientele, and Miss Nellie’s relatives—but perplexingly, not a single former employee of the brothel. The type of power Miss Nellie wielded is peculiar, and watching interviewees wrestle with it was riveting: people have had decades to process the woman and her business, and will wax poetic about her acumen and strength, then talk right out the other side of their mouth about her morals. The missing voices of sex workers are vital to the tale, and their unique proximity would have provided an essential complement to everyone else’s moral grappling with prurience and lasciviousness (although there were few outright condemnations; it seems Miss Nellie was almost universally beloved). I hope this film is remade with better audio/visual resources and a keener editorial eye—and most importantly, with the participation of women who worked at Nellie’s. It’s a story worth telling, and worth telling right. (Tuesday, October 23 at the Broad Theater; Thursday, October 25 at the Advocate New Orleans) —Beck Levy

NARRATIVE FEATURES

CHAINED FOR LIFE
In what director Aaron Schimberg has called a response to the film Freaks, an exploitation film  from 1932 starring the conjoined twin Hilton sisters, Chained for Life focuses on how those with disfigurements are treated within the film industry. The film centers on the making of a Freaks-like horror movie where the director (modeled on the legendary, manic Werner Herzog) has hired a variety of disabled or disfigured actors. It doesn’t take long for them to realize they are being used simply for shock value. In the film’s funniest and most telling moment, the director guides the actor Rosenthal (played by Adam Pearson of Under the Skin fame) through his reveal scene by comparing it to a scene from The Muppet Movie. The level of insensitivity displayed by the director, along with the ridiculous comparison, highlights how the film industry is still miles away from being truly progressive. (Thursday, October 18 at the CAC, Sunday, October 21 at the New Orleans Advocate) —Brandon Lattimore

SOLACE
In director Tchaiko Omawale’s first feature-length film, Solace is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl named Sole (Hope Olaide Wilson) who has to move to California from New York after her father dies. She moves in with her grandmother (Lynn Whitfield), whose strict religious beliefs clash with Sole’s desire to travel with her teacher to help protest in Sierra Leone. Soon she meets her neighbors, who introduce her to dance parties and drugs; she in turn asks if they want to start a Pussy Riot-like group. What follows is a deep dive into Sole’s mental state as she deals with an eating disorder inherited from her mother. In what can usually end up as cliched in most coming-of-age films, Solace handles it all with a nice amount of subtlety and visceral shots that perfectly display Sole’s growing anxiety, as well as the similar addictions and struggles of those around her. (Presented with community partners Covenant House and Women With a Vision, Saturday, October 20 at the CAC; Tuesday, October 23 at the New Orleans Advocate) —Brandon Lattimore

CINEMA RESET

6: AN UNBIRTH
A multimedia collaboration between Riley Teahan, Liana Cockfield, Milo Daemgen, and natalita, 6: An Unbirth explores femininity and nature and the empowerment of self-structuring one’s identity. As a visual album, natalita’s singing carries us through an artpop-meets-world music journey of self-discovery. As an experimental work, every song is a world unto itself, yet contains an overall cohesive journey filled with symbolism. The realization of feminine power as goddess comes through heavily in a scene that opens with the line, “Before Gods, there were Goddesses. Before Man, there were Trees.” From here the scene melts into shadowy figures, enormous cypress trees, and womb-like nature births. Overall, 6: An Unbirth presents some of the most striking visual explorations to root themselves in New Orleans. For fans of Maya Deren, FKA Twigs, Yoko Ono, and Panos Cosmatos. (Thursday, October 18 – Monday, October 22 at the CAC) —Nathan Tucker

NARRATIVE SHORTS

FATHERLAND
In George Sikharulidze’s narrative short Fatherland (also called On Faith and Longing), Joseph Stalin undergoes an apparent resurrection at a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of his death in the place of his birth, Gori, Georgia. The premise seems ripe for comedy, and if you saw Armando Iannucci’s recent work of (loosely) historical satire The Death of Stalin, that might be what you’re expecting. But other than the deceased dictator in question, Scottish Iannuci’s farcical feature has little in common with what Sikharulidze has created here. While there is droll humor in Fatherland, it is understated. Sikharulidze is Georgian and the film is in Georgian with subtitles. As a viewer with only a rudimentary understanding of Georgia’s complex history—its time under Soviet rule, its succession of governmental styles, its autonomous regions—I am sure there are many layers to this work inaccessible to me. Regardless, Fatherland is a painterly homage to Georgia’s most infamous son, thanks to the masterful work of Director of Photography Guri Goliadze. What stands out in this film and lingers in memory afterward are beautiful shots of the landscape and the people: exquisitely composed scenes. (World premiere, Saturday, October 20 and Tuesday, October 23 at the New Orleans Advocate) —Beck Levy

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
It’s the last year of the ‘70s, and as a young newscaster—a Black woman (played by Chalia La Tour)—is preparing to cover a protest, we are privy to her tender domestic moments, personal rituals, and extensive self-coaching. Director Courtney Faye Powell made an interesting decision to tell the story of a protest by centering a fictitious character peripheral to it. Though The Future Is Bright is a work of fiction, the events of November 3, 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina are a matter of historical record. It was a bloody day in which Nazis and the KKK colluded with local law enforcement to facilitate the massacre of members of a multi-racial labor coalition as they peacefully gathered. These events were real; they are well-documented (including by a rigorous and formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission), and they have only gained relevance in recent years. Though the Greensboro Massacre looms large in this work, it occupies only a brief moment of action. Powell has us examine the event through a distant vantage, the preparation and the aftermath, through its impact on one bystander; the way she pushes forward and what she tells herself in order to do that, the way the violence marks a life and a career. But I am left contemplating the line defining the “before” and “after,” for this fictional character, and the mortal weight it carries for the many real survivors of that day. Maybe this film isn’t about the massacre at all, but merely uses it as a plot device. If so, what’s the material impact of that choice? I am not sure. The significance of this under-examined American tragedy makes it impossible to let this be just a story about just a woman. (Sunday, October 21 and Wednesday, October 24 at the CAC Warehouse) —Beck Levy

PHOTOTAXIS
This experimental short, directed by CalArts student Melissa Ferrari, explores the nature of faith and ideology by juxtaposing excerpts from Narcotics Anonymous (NA) with stories of sightings of the mythical creature Mothman. In under seven minutes, Ferrari creates an immersive sensory experience that transports you to West Virginia (natural site of narcotics addiction and supernatural encounters). The visuals are richly textured, utilizing multimedia collage, illustration, newspaper clippings, light, and shadows to animate the story. The soundscape is adorned with ambient noise, field recordings, and interviews, which immediately and effectively establish a sense of place. Student work has a tendency toward the literal, and I suspect Ferrari has an agenda—telling a story that is both about Mothman and NA would seem to destabilize the validity of one of those entities, and not the wingéd one. To me, even one wary of powers (particularly those of the higher persuasion), choosing to needle one of the oldest and largest peer-supported recovery resources in the world—particularly in a region so ravaged by addiction, and so bereft of options—felt provocative without being productive. This gorgeous film’s strength lays elsewhere—in the evocative. Set aside your analytical mind and let Ferrari take you to Appalachia. (Sunday, October 21 and Wednesday, October 24 at the CAC) —Beck Levy

SAN MIGUEL
Directed by Cris Gris, San Miguel is the colorful and tragic story of intergenerational beliefs and the pain that is carried with them. The narrative follows Ana, an 11-year-old girl in search of divine intervention after the loss of her younger brother. Set in contemporary Mexico, in the opening scene we see Ana and her brother Miguel playing on the roof of a cathedral. Minutes later, the film cuts to the voice-over of Ana’s mother crying and screaming, signifying the death of her son. Circulating with guilt and anxiety, the story reflects Ana’s solitary struggle for a miracle. The film tilts in and out of reality, which could be compared to heaven and hell, where Ana remains in this purgatory-like state. She is unable to go back or move forward, and her only hope is to alleviate the pain of her mother who remains in a paralyzed state of grief. San Miguel paints a story of womanhood, lineage, and the presence of God in relationships with family members. Gris manages to effortlessly exhibit the religious imagery tucked into every scene, a parallel to the main character’s anxiety and pain. The continuous search of God’s intervention culminates in a powerful close, where Ana tests her boundaries with God one more time. (Sunday, October 21 and Monday, October 22 at the CAC) —Gabby Garcia-Steib

CLOSING NIGHT

A TUBA TO CUBA
Havana and New Orleans are two colorful Spanish port cities, inextricably linked through Gulf geography, yet disconnected from one another for more than five decades as a result of political tensions. A Tuba to Cuba (directed by T.G. Herrington and Danny Clinch) follows the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on a musical journey through Cuba as they trace the roots of Jazz to African drumming and Cubano music. This journey fulfills the dream of the band’s founder, Allen Jaffe, who dreamed of taking the band to Cuba, but died in 1987 before tensions would deescalate. Herrington and Clinch capture the band’s pilgrimage in such a way that feels like watching two old friends reconnect. Language barriers dissolve as both the Preservation Hall Band and the Cuban artists they play with discover their shared roots—both musically and through shared experiences of oppression and hardship. A Tuba to Cuba is an important piece of music history and a dazzling work of cinematography. (Thursday, October 25 at the CAC, including a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) —A.T. Callaghan


The 29th annual New Orleans Film Festival takes place October 17 through the 25. The Festival hub and main box office is the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St.); other venues include the New Orleans Advocate (840 St. Charles Ave.), The Orpheum Theater (129 Roosevelt Way), The Broad Theater (636 N. Broad St.), and The Prytania Theatre (5339 Prytania St.). For more info, check out neworleansfilmsociety.org.

 

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