The Show Goes On: AG Picks for the 2020 New Orleans Film Festival

In the grand tradition of Southern persistence, The New Orleans Film Festival presses on for its 31st year. Due to COVID-19, the festival will be held primarily online as well as screening a selection of films at both the NOFF Open-Air Cinema (at the Lafitte Greenway) and the Broad Theater’s new outdoor venue, Broadside. The online fest will run from November 6th to November 22nd, while outdoor screenings will run from November 6th to November 15th. Nearly half of this year’s films represent the South, but the global selections offer a rounding out of perspective as well as a grounding in shared struggle. Many selections are tinted with a pre-COVID nostalgia; what we wouldn’t give to dance in the streets again. Others offer insight into government abandonment and hostility: a roadmap of what has already come and what that means for what comes next. In this year’s endless stream of information and decisions, we hope our picks offer some relief and welcome you with (socially-distanced) ease.


Breaking Fast

With a danceworthy soundtrack and a heartwarming story, Mike Mosallam’s feature debut is a gay, Muslim rom-com that will have you rooting for the budding romance between practicing-Muslim Mo (Haaz Sleiman) and the all-American Kal (Michael Cassidy). Mo, a doctor living in Los Angeles, is a bit hung up on his last relationship with the thoughtful, gentle Hassan (Patrick Sabongui) when he meets the gorgeous Kal. But Kal, an actor who speaks perfect Arabic, surprises Mo, especially when Kal invites himself over to break fast with Mo during Ramadan. Amin El Gamal (who plays Mo’s gay, Muslim best friend Sam) and Rula Gardenier (Mo’s assertive, hilarious mother) are both amazing in the film, capturing Mosallam’s witty and grounded dialogue perfectly. Breaking Fast is exceedingly fun to watch, while breaking down stereotypes and showing us characters—both proudly gay and Muslim—rarely seen on screen. (Virtual screening starting November 8) —Sarah Durn

The Outside Story

Known usually for his short film nonfiction work, director Casmir Nozkowski’s first feature film displays his knack for charming, slice-of-life stories. The Outside Story focuses on video editor Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry) as he finds himself accidentally locked out of his apartment that he once shared with his recently broken-up-with girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green). Through various attempts to get back into his apartment, he slowly starts to meet the neighbors around his block, who he had ignored while focusing on his work and relationship. It’s all very charming and lighthearted, and held together by a very funny performance by Brian Tyree Henry, who rarely gets to take center stage. There is unfortunately a bit of copaganda present, as he constantly runs afoul of a traffic cop named Slater (Sunita Mani), who he befriends as the day unfolds. While Mani is excellent in the role, a scene that happens late in the movie solidifies how ill-placed showcasing a “good” cop is—especially in the current climate. (Virtual screening starting November 7) —Brandon Lattimore

Inspector Ike

This is a sketch comedy movie made by sketch comedy people for people who love sketch comedy. The filmmakers stitch a simple story yarn: an understudy at an avant-garde theater kills the star (clear motive) and covers his tracks with a faked audition tape, making it look like a suicide. And the plan goes off without a hiccup… well, almost. The structure owes a lot to Columbo, in that we see the whole crime unfold. And after nearly 20 minutes without seeing our title character (save for a spot-on opening credits sequence, made to look like a ‘70s T.V. show), he finally steps onto the scene. It’s now a situation of: we know, the killer knows, but the Inspector doesn’t yet know, but we’re pretty sure he will know soon enough because he’s the Inspector and he always gets his man. Unlike Columbo, however, the material is treated not with any unraveling-the-clues kind of procedural pretense, but with irony and slapstick—hence the gags that go to absurd lengths, including an interlude involving the oft-alluded-to pot of chili, which seems to hold religious significance in this movie universe. It’s funny. It’s fun. You’ll have a good time watching. (Virtual screening starting November 8) —Derek


Welcome to Pine Lake

Elisa Gambino and Neal Broffman‘s Welcome to Pine Lake is a thoughtful, funny, and poignant portrait of a small town in the Deep South—Pine Lake, Georgia, population 747. Women hold all the major leadership roles in Pine Lake. The mayor, the chief of police, and the entire city council are all women. With a public beach, a police force, and a community of residents that celebrates art and diversity, Pine Lake seems like a paradise. That is until you begin to zoom out and find the history of segregation that allows Pine Lake to exist. Pine Lake is largely white, and the towns surrounding Pine Lake are largely Black. While the surrounding Black communities suffer from over-policing and a lack of resources, Pine Lake is a bubble of art, parades, and whiteness. Welcome To Pine Lake explores the performativity of liberal politics and allyship, and how any “paradise” comes at a cost—a cost usually paid by Black and brown communities. (Virtual screening starting November 14) —Sarah Durn

Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story

When Beverly Glenn-Copeland (pictured at top) independently released Keyboard Fantasies on tape in 1986, it mostly fell on deaf ears. The synthy new age album wouldn’t find an audience until almost three decades later, when a Japanese record collector reached out to Glenn-Copeland and helped bring renewed attention to the release. This documentary shares its name with that album, but it has far more to do with the Black Canadian musician’s life journey and retirement-age career resurgence. He opens up to filmmakers about finding his trans identity in his middle-age years and navigating a sometimes narrow-minded world. In one harrowing instance, he recalls family members attempting to place him in a mental institution during the 1960s for his relationships with women, which were viewed as illegal lesbian relationships at the time. Even after overcoming such hardships, Glenn-Copeland is a warm, optimistic figure, brimming with an infectious feeling of joy. Now in his 70s, he leads a group of young musicians on tour to perform in front of deeply appreciative youthful audiences. After decades of being overlooked, Glenn-Copeland now occupies the spotlight as a positive force. He believes his purpose has finally found him. (Virtual screening starting November 13) —William Archambeault

Closed for Storm

As one of the more unique locations abandoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Six Flags New Orleans—formerly known as Jazzland—has been a favorite of many photographers and urban explorers since it closed for good 15 years ago. Released as an extension of their YouTube series “Abandoned,” Bright Sun Films and director Jake Williams do a really good job of tackling the history of the park, along with the aftermath from the storm and what the future might look like for the space the park still occupies. Interviewees included former workers, advertisers, theme park aficionados, and residents of New Orleans East who live near the park. While at some points heavy-handed (the music that plays during the Katrina destruction montage is so sappy it’s unbearable), it is essential viewing for the scenes of the park and the park facilities as they are forever frozen in time, with signs still hyping up a fall/winter 2005 season while plants and moss start to grow over the rides and other attractions. (Saturday, November 7 and Monday, November 9 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway and Broadside; virtual screening starting November 8) —Brandon Lattimore


The Offline Playlist

How surreal is it to glimpse a second of yourself dancing to the magic of New Orleans pre-COVID? Watching The Offline Playlist, I hoped for such a moment. Before the world of live music came crashing down, I’d spent two years working for Preservation Hall in different capacities. So, catching myself in the background of the performances featured in this 49-minute collaborative film was indeed thrilling—though it did bring up a bit of post-COVID bitterness. But as the musicians of Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who I came to know and love, performed with some of New Orleans’ most iconic talent, my heart soon warmed again. Filmed by New Orleans Tourism and 360i at Preservation Hall on July 13, 2019, ten featured musicians took the stage alongside PHJB, creating, essentially, a live version of the Spotify “Offline” playlist, featuring Irma Thomas, Jon Batiste, Curren$y, Mannie Fresh, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Alynda Segarra, Boyfriend, Amanda Shaw, Craig Adams, and Walter Wolfman Washington. The chaos of that night is truly a spectacle to behold—with some amazing songs performed, and others, like “Keep Your Head Up,” feeling like a true waste of a collaboration. (Friday, November 13 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 14) Julia Engel

To Decadence with Love, Thanks for Everything!

This film explores drag in New Orleans not only in terms of celebratory beauty but also its pragmatic reality. Directed, produced, and edited by Stuart Sox, To Decadence With Love, Thanks for Everything! follows two drag queens (and the queens they encounter) the weekend of Southern Decadence in 2019. The standard narratives surrounding drag and New Orleans come out: how this is the place to be weird and yourself, how the city welcomes unabashed expression. But the film has a heavy emphasis on the money to be made here, specifically on this weekend, and how the gig economy is the backbone of the city. The film features performers rushing from gig to gig, a marathon of performance that is, yes, decadent, but more importantly an acquired skill of endurance. Performers also discuss tension between different factions of drag, and viewers are given insight into the real work that goes into the play. Some year in the future we will hopefully get our Decadence back. (Sunday, November 8 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; Tuesday, November 10 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway and Broadside; Saturday, November 14 at Broadside; virtual screening starting November 9) Marisa Clogher

A Place Called Desire

This film tells the story of an area nestled between the Florida and Industrial Canals and railroad tracks—literally cut off from the rest of the city on all four corners—and the people living there from the 1940s up through Katrina and beyond. It’s a lot to unpack, the first thing being that the original settlement was not housing projects at all, but what was then called The Louisa Street Homes. These were some of the first homes owned by Black New Orleanians, families formerly renting Uptown or in the Treme, often without electricity or indoor plumbing. Not that conditions in the Desire were that much better. The land, bordering a cypress swamp and toxic trash dump, was undeveloped, the inhabitants having to trudge through blocks of slush and mud (the city charged owners $500 to have the street in front of their homes paved) to get groceries or to go to school or see Fats Domino play the Hideaway Club. When the swamp was cleared and the red-brick apartment blocks arose—increasing the area’s population by 13,000—so came the schools, churches, and a community that became its own small city—a community that would go on to weather storms, pollution, a police siege, and a so-called “war on drugs” through the ‘70s and ‘80s.

It’s a familiar story: one of segregation, voter suppression, and racism. But it’s also one of self-determination and solidarity: worshippers building their own church from a structure hauled from the Jackson Barracks; mentorship and conflicts resolved through “gentlemen disagreements;” parents feeding one another’s children and offering help without expectation of reward. “We didn’t have much, but we shared everything we had,” a former resident says. When residents set up their own record store and cultural center, Sons of Desire, they used the proceeds to help struggling community members pay bills.

The film’s tone is overwhelmingly positive. And this extends to the Black Panthers, who those interviewed are quick to point out aided the community with their education and breakfast programs. “The Panthers are our friends, they are helping our community,” a resident says, referring to the event in which he and others formed a human blockade around the Panther apartment when police came with a war wagon to oust them in 1970. The Desire defenders chased back the police, but the victory was short-lived. They returned, this time using priest garbs to gain access for a commando siege, leading to a shootout. “I was never afraid to walk through our community. I felt very safe,” says a woman who grew up in the Desire. “But that day, when the police presence was there, it was a scary day.” Essential viewing for anyone interested in New Orleans’ cultural history and in Black struggle in the city and America. I can’t recommend this movie enough. (Thursday, November 12 at Broadside; Saturday, November 14 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 13) —Derek



Opening to the sound of waves, Fernando Guisa’s Funeral explores the shifting tides of grief— the inexplicable waves of happiness and sadness that come after someone dies. The film follows two exes brought together after the death of a friend and follows them as they wander around their city laughing and crying. (Virtual screening starting November 6) —Sarah Durn

Kama’aina (Child of the Land)

Kimi Howl Lee‘s film follows Mahina, a queer 17-year-old girl, as she navigates life on the streets. Eventually, Mahina finds sanctuary in the Pu’uhonua o Wai’anae village, the largest homeless encampment in Hawaii. Lee drew on personal experience when making the film. During a family vacation to Hawaii, Lee had a brief summer romance with a local Hawaiian boy, who Lee learned was living out of his car. “Having been romantically involved with someone my age—who was ostensibly homeless—remains one of the most profound, thought-provoking experiences of my life,” she said in an interview. (Virtual screening starting November 6) —Sarah Durn

Little Chief

Set on a rural Oklahoma reservation, Erica Tremblay’s Little Chief follows Susan, a 5th-grade elementary school teacher, as she tries to just get her students through the day. But when one of her students bolts out of the classroom, she has to chase him across the Oklahoma plains. Shot in a quiet, understated way, Little Chief is like peering through a window into just one more day on the reservation. (Virtual screening starting November 6) —Sarah Durn

Hapi Berdey Yusimi In Yur Dey

Ana A. Alpizar’s film is a fun and moving tale about Yusimi’s birthday, which goes awry when her sugar daddy abandons her on the eve of her 30th birthday. Whimsically shot, the film delves into questions of home, womanhood, and getting older, all while Yusimi visits the mall, performs a love spell, and curls up in bed with her best friends. (Virtual screening starting November 6) —Sarah Durn


Flat Town

Bryan Tucker‘s Flat Town peers into the small Cajun town of Ville Platte, Louisiana, and their annual football game, the Tee Cotton Bowl, between the majority-Black public high school and majority-white private high school. The Tee Cotton Bowl serves as the entry point to examine the deep-rooted, complex history of racism and segregation in Ville Platte. Ville Platte’s first Black female mayor, the Tee Cotton Bowl’s white founder, and Grace Sibley, the first Black student to desegregate the “whites only” public high school in 1965, all weigh in on the Tee Cotton Bowl and whether it should still be celebrated today. (Saturday, November 7 and Wednesday, November 11 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 6) —Sarah Durn

Distant Mardi Gras

When I caught sight of myself in the candidly filmed Distant Mardi Gras, my jaw dropped. There my friends and I were dancing and shouting along to Qween Amor as she twerked and jiggled in front of the “Jesus will damn you” protesters on Mardi Gras day. As the film illustrates, that was truly the last day of untamed debauchery in New Orleans as we knew it. To see it filmed, in a home-video-turned-abstract-art type of way, brought up a whole wave of emotions that I had not expected to feel when watching director Alejandro de los Rios’ footage. The film interviews Thomas Jayne, Qween Amor, drag queen Laveau Contraire, Samantha Fenimore, Greg and Jessica B. Rhoades, Sara Jean McCarthy, and Elizabeth Charvat about their experiences during the 2020 Carnival season and what it’s like thinking about that carefree time in the wake of COVID-19. (Sunday, November 8 and Thursday, November 12 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 6) Julia Engel

California Creole 

This short film follows Andre Thierry as he fights for recognition as an authentic Zydeco artist while living in Richmond, California. This short, produced for the transmedia Roots of Fire project, illustrates the long history of Creoles moving out West, and the musical migration that has ensued as a result. As Thierry narrates, he takes us around his neighborhood, showing us where his passion for Zydeco music was first seeded and later sprawled into the wider range of music he plays today as a Grammy-nominated Zydeco and soul artist. (Saturday, November 7 and Wednesday, November 11 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 6) Julia Engel

Le Boulanger

Directed by Stanley Thomas, Le Boulanger takes us into the world of French Creole baker Francois Poupart, and the meticulous process of French dessert-making at Poupart Bakery in Lafayette, Louisiana. The camera pans to the vast amount of professional equipment needed for making such sweets, the 20-something whisks hanging in the kitchen, and what seems to be the pure joy of consuming such confections. Though this is an essential aspect of the short documentary, its primary subject is communicating the dying tradition of French-dialect speaking that the bakery keeps alive. This short, and its message of family, tradition, and loss absolutely pulls at the heartstrings. (Saturday, November 7 and Wednesday, November 11 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 6) Julia Engel

The Ways Station

Directed by Jason Affolder, this entry definitely gives off the air of a modern Twilight Zone episode, opening on a seedy motel panorama accompanied by eerie horror film music. Though the acting here feels a bit forced, for an independent short this film definitely brings an impressive level of intrigue and mystery. (Tuesday, November 10 and Thursday, November 12 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 6) —Julia Engel

are our mothers

An intimate biographical film, are our mothers delves into the complexity of maternal bonds. The short film explores the unique bond between mother and daughter, contrasting the relationship between protagonist Ebony and her mother with Ebony’s own journey into motherhood. Through minimalist production, director Riley Teahan highlights the nuanced emotions of maternity through the heartfelt story of Ebony and her daughter Robin. (Sunday, November 8 and Thursday, November 12 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; Virtual screening starting November 6) —Victoria Conway


Black Lady Goddess

Created by filmmaker Chelsea Odufu, who has been credited on Spike Lee projects Chi-Raq and She’s Gotta Have It, Black Lady Goddess is an upcoming afro-futuristic web series where the world discovers God is a Black woman around the same time there’s a strong push for reparations for those of African descent in America. While only the pilot episode of the series is being screened as part of this year’s New Orleans Film Festival, Odufu showcases a strong knack for world-building and humor. A good example of this humor is the discovery of Black Lady Goddess herself. Referred to as the Appropriator, the white trust fund daughter of a former dictator funds the means to find Black Lady Goddess and asks to become Black. With a style that feels like an updated take of Spike Lee’s own School Daze, yet set 20 years into the future, it’s easy to find yourself invested in the world of Black Lady Goddess. (Virtual screening starting November 6) —Brandon Lattimore


Do Not Split

Do Not Split doesn’t wait for you to catch up. Directed by Anders Hammer, this short tells the story of the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, and it opens in the middle of a demonstration where protestors are strategically working to set a Bank of China building on fire. The short is split up between different demonstrations, each highlighting the power, weaponry, and propaganda of the police as well as the insurgency tactics of protestors. The background information viewers receive is minimal, instead dropping us into the boiling point and letting us sit in its urgency. The final shot shows a cloud of tear gas filling the street, then clearing to reveal a group of protestors with black umbrellas forming a shield around their circle. Then, “The protests continue.” In a year of heightened insurgency against the State, we could take note and improve on the tactics of our global comrades. (Virtual screening starting November 6) Marisa Clogher

The Day They Took My Father

Jillian Godshall and Anlo Sepulveda’s entry is a moving documentary short that delves into the story behind the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The film follows Nataly, whose father Victor was taken after being stopped for a traffic violation. The film removes the pretense of “immigrant” and reveals the personal stories behind the nightly news label. (Virtual screening starting November 6) Sarah Durn

Take Me to the Prom

Take Me to the Prom does exactly as it sets out to do: tell you queer people’s prom stories. It isn’t overly ambitious in its aim, and it’s the right length to prevent us from asking it to go deeper. The short, directed and produced by Andrew Moir, interviews queer people of varying ages and locations about what their prom experiences—or prom evasions—were like, and through these stories it maps a progression of queer adolescense over time. The short is colorful and celebratory, even when the stories are not necessarily so. Between interviews, viewers are shown pictures of interviewees in high school as well as staged footage that adds to the film’s decadent nostalgia. The short doesn’t offer many surprises, but for what it is, it doesn’t need to. (Virtual screening starting November 6) Marisa Clogher

Bug Farm

Focusing on the experiences of four women, this documentary short tells the tale of an insect farm and the unique bonds fostered there. Contrasting the typically grotesque sight of writhing worms and scuttling insects with a soft instrumental score, Bug Farm (Directed by Lydia Cornett) presents a tender perspective on what most would consider gritty work. In the small town of LaBelle, Florida, employees raise and care for crickets, superworms, and cockroaches with an almost maternal approach not commonly associated with insects. Through conversations and reflections, it becomes evident that their tasks provide meaning and purpose to the individuals who work there, fostering a sense of community both with the bugs and with each other. Sometimes, the ugliest things can be the most beautiful. (Tuesday, November 10 at Broadside; Sunday, November 15 at New Orleans Open-Air Cinema at Lafitte Greenway; virtual screening starting November 6) —Victoria Conway

For more info on the 31st New Orleans Film Festival, including COVID-19 policies for the live screenings, check out