click to enlarge
It's no secret that times are tough for nonprofit arts organizations in New Orleans and across the country. But in an era of shrinking budgets and scaled-back offerings, the New Orleans Film Society and its flagship New Orleans Film Festival are growing while building a strong national presence. Thanks to expanded year-round programming, community outreach to local filmmakers and audiences, and the presence of new executive director Jolene Pinder — who moved to New Orleans from New York City in January to helm the Society — membership has jumped from around 300 a little over a year ago to more than 1,000 people today.
The 22nd annual festival takes place Oct. 14-20 at 10 venues around the city and includes 180 films (up from 130 last year), including full-length features, documentaries, short films and animation. There also are panel discussions and other events, many with local themes, and many free and open to the public.
Among the new offerings for the 2011 Festival is a series called Keeping (SCORE), which highlights the relationship between music and film in New Orleans and beyond.
"These worlds already started talking to each other in new and interesting ways this year," Pinder says. "Film and television have come into this town and exploded with Treme and the Preservation Hall documentary (Live at Preservation Hall: A Louisiana Fairytale, showing Oct. 17 at the Prytania Theatre). It seemed like a natural fit to create some programming dedicated to how music and film interact."
Many of the Keeping (Score) screenings include performances by musicians who have some connection to the film. A free screening of Rejoice and Shout (Oct. 18 at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center), a documentary on the history and evolution of gospel music, will be preceded by a performance by The Electrifying Crown Seekers. New Orleans harp-guitar wizard Phil DeGruy will perform prior to the screening of Who the Hell is Tony Green? (Oct. 15 at Second Line Stages), a documentary about the local artist and free-thinker.
The Festival's many regional connections also can be found in the Louisiana Documentary Shorts program and three separate programs of Louisiana Narrative Shorts, each with two showings. Ten of the festival's full-length feature films were either shot in Louisiana or feature work by local filmmakers. Opening night festivities include the North American premiere of The Big Fix, a documentary about the 2010 BP oil disaster, and Brawler, starring Bryan Batt, a drama shot and set in New Orleans about two brothers enmeshed in illicit riverboat boxing.
While the Society's mission is to "engage, educate, and inspire audiences," Pinder points out that the Festival can't exist in a vacuum with respect to the flourishing local film industry. "I want to see it become a destination festival that introduces Louisiana films, by local filmmakers, to people all over the world," Pinder says. "We have so much room to grow and show people what's so magical about making movies in New Orleans."