We’re celebrating Mardi Gras and paying tribute to its mecca with films that capture the vibrant and resilient spirit that permeates New Orleans life.
With Fat Tuesday upon us and with Beyonce’s Formation still in heavy rotation (to put it mildly), we’re taking a moment to honor a unique city that has seen its share of both harrowing catastrophe and Dionysian debauchery the best way we know how — with movies. Here are a few of our favorite films about New Orleans:
The Big Easy hasn’t exactly had it easy, and much of Formation‘s powerful imagery reminds us of dark times, indeed. But the horrors of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are marked by remarkable examples of human compassion, cooperation, determination and heart. Where the powers that be failed their citizenry, a community fought to live, rebuild and prosper anew.
Verité-style documentaries Kamp Katrina, by prolific filmmaker-collaborators and FIXers Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, and Trouble the Water, which was filmed by New Orleans residents Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband while their 9th Ward neighborhood was destroyed, both bear witness to an American tragedy of infrastructure and bureaucracy unparalleled until perhaps now in Flint. But they also prove that New Orleans is a city of survivors, organizers and other heroes. At the end of Formation, while the waters submerge the NOPD car with Beyonce on top of it, you can hear Kimberly Rivers Roberts’ voice — a tribute to and symbol of the everyday Americans who lived through that experience together.
There is something inherently defiant about jazz funerals, as well as the parades and masquerades that make up the New Orleans mythos. This defiance has existed since long before Katrina, in this place where worlds of the living and the dead seem much closer together. Flood Streets, which won (among many other accolades) the New Orleans Film Festival Award for Best Louisiana Narrative Feature, is a fantastical and Fellini-esque love letter to this brand of spiritual fortitude. One year after the storm, people are not just going about the arduous process of rebuilding, they are dancing while they do it. This isn’t a documentary, but it does get things right. And you really can’t beat the homegrown soundtrack.
Tchoupitoulas guides us through the most recent incarnation of New Orleans, as we follow three young boys through the surreal, saturated night. Their wonder at the world of performers, merrymakers, noise and color becomes ours. This beautiful, complicated, alluring city is brought to life in a way that affirms its enduring magic, and we can think of no better capstone for this collection of movies. Like so many film reels (buffering messages just don’t have the same poetry, now do they), let the good times roll.
Bonus Mardi Gras Viewing:
Formation offers glimpses of the rich cultural heritage built around the holiday of Mardi Gras, traditions that are explored to rich and illuminating effect in The Order of Myths. This acclaimed documentary investigates the history, and the intersections of race, class and gender, behind the party, aspects of New Orleans that few tourists may know from their own bead-tossing and drink-downing. This film is a Fandor favorite, and for good reason: