Three decades before the 2009 release of Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help, on which the current film is based, Gary L. Goldman filmed a documentary in New Orleans which featured interviews with black domestic laborers and the white families they worked for. The 48-minute film screened at a couple of documentary film festivals and was broadcast on PBS. It gets a rare theatrical screening this week at Chalmette Movies — technically its local premiere.
Goldman worked on Louis Malle's Pretty Baby (1978) and stayed in New Orleans to make Yes Ma'am with the help of Bethany Bultman and Tulane University's Amistad Research Center. It has some narrative but mostly stitches together interviews. The restored film is grainy, and many scenes feature seated subjects talking directly to the camera. But the interviewees are candid and it's a powerful juxtaposition of the experiences and perceptions of employers and employees. There's also a wide range of attitudes about the arrangements, including workers who defend their relationships as friendships that include generous caretaking, and others who candidly critique the value placed on sycophancy. Often, children and teens offer the most inadvertently revealing insights. One group of teens is interviewed while swimming and they talk about their triangulated relationships with their mothers and the maids who work in their homes. In another story, a woman recounts a little girl's inadvertent revelation that in private her mother uses the word "nigger." While it exposes some of the racism entrenched in the domestic arrangements, it sensitively explores how people felt and how they dealt with the situation. The film is 30 years old and this ground was broken long ago, but it's a very good document of its time. — Will Coviello
2 p.m.-7 p.m.
Chalmette Movies, 8700 W. Judge Perez Drive, 304-9992; www.chalmettemovies.com