Inside, the curtain opens to whoops and howls. The opening credits feature QBert -- a seminal hip-hop DJ, hailed for his elevation of turntablism as an art form -- collecting his luggage from the local airport carousel. Like most of the passengers on his flight, he's on his way to a Mardi Gras party, namely Zoolu, a rave at the State Palace Theatre. As the film plays on, a host of international DJs appear, including marquee names such as Josh Wink, Nigel Richards and Derrick Carter.
But none of these performers is the star of the film.
That honor is reserved for event promoter James D. Estopinal Jr., aka Disco Donnie, who first appears dressed in an orange vinyl tracksuit and a Wagner's Meat T-shirt, gold sunglasses and a bottle opener on a gold rope around his neck. "We're going to a party," he says to start the film, flashing both rows of stark-white teeth in a wide grin. "Twenty-five hundred or 3,000 of my closest friends."
Estopinal's wildly popular parties at the State Palace Theatre became the stuff of rave legend by early 2000. Yet it wasn't just innovative productions and financial success that landed him in Time, Rolling Stone and The New York Times. The parties -- along with their venue and promoter -- won their fame thanks to a national controversy that would eventually grow to include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), both houses of Congress and the entire entertainment industry.
GROWING UP ON THE WEST BANK
James D. Estopinal Jr. got his first taste of nightlife via his father. A hardworking attorney, James Estopinal Sr. gave up his practice in 1979 after he separated from 8-year-old Donnie's mother. Known as "Disco Jim," the elder Estopinal took a job as a DJ at a bar called Scratches on Behrman Highway. Sometimes on weekends, Donnie's mother would let him go there with his father. "I would sleep on the floor, go through records, play video games, help stock beers, stuff like that," the younger Estopinal recalls.
When he wasn't spinning records, Disco Jim lived in a motor home parked in a field near the bar. "I thought it was awesome that he lived in a motor home," says Disco Donnie. "I saw all kinds of stuff kids aren't supposed to see."
Most of the time, though, Estopinal lived with his mother, Betty Estopinal, a CPA who now runs her own accounting firm in Metairie. The most striking thing in her office is a massive portrait of "Disco Donnie" dancing in a leisure suit, constructed entirely of Mardi Gras beads. "That's my son!" she says proudly.