Louisiana is still one of the leading states for film and TV production, despite Atlanta’s new reign as “Hollywood East”. But the draw for independent as well as studio productions to shoot in the magical city of New Orleans, rich in history and visually stunning from the legendary French Quarter to the surrounding nature, is still strong (right now, there are three TV series and seven films shooting in the city). It is also no secret that Louisiana is one of the country’s poorest states, which makes the ambitious work of the New Orleans Film Society (NOFS), which also puts on the yearly festival in October, all the more commendable.
At their yearly spring gala, NOFS has one goal and one goal only: to raise as much money as possible for their flagship New Orleans Film Festival and filmmaker development programs, first and foremost the minority filmmakers’ lab. For the first time this year, the HFPA supported the event, which was held in the luscious garden of the historic Bruno-Wilkinson mansion in uptown Nola. Titled “Midnight in the Garden”, it was a most colorful party, from the taxidermy peacocks to life-size alligator statues to a slew of characters dressed as birds, it was a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. This wouldn’t be New Orleans without the best restaurants catering the event. And there was music, of course: Cellist Helen Gillet took the stage during the dinner portion and DJ Musa provided the dance tunes later on, when the guests were hitting the dance floor after the auction.
I co-chaired the gala along with local documentary filmmaker Nicelle Herrington (A Tuba To Cuba) and gallerist Martine Marie Chaisson. Driving up the prices during the auction was one of our main jobs. Local filmmaker Alexa Georges, honorary chairman and creator of the event (the NOFS gala is her baby) bid up a storm at the auction, too: vacation destinations, weekend stays, premiere tickets, VIP passes to the New Orleans Film Festival, a coffee machine signed by George Clooney, a walk-on for four on the locally filmed set of hit TV series NCIS: New Orleans, an outdoor screening party, private dinners hosted by famous chefs and artworks racked up almost 35.000. Add to that the sponsorships, patron tickets and gala tables, and this one night-event garnered $125,000.
Said Fallon Young, executive director of NOFS: “This generosity means we will be able to mount a successful and well-funded Southern Producer's lab this month, which brings together a diverse group of emerging producers from 7 Southern states to learn from respected industry advisors. I'm also proud that 8 of the 13 emerging producers benefiting from the lab are women, and over half of the 238 films in our most recent New Orleans Film Festival were directed by women. In addition to mounting the Southern Producer's Lab, this month we're also taking the entire cohort of our Emerging Voices program, a mentorship program for Louisiana filmmakers of color, to a creative conference in Atlanta.”
Queen Sugar’s Tina Lifford (she plays Aunt Vi), who participated in the HFPA’s Women Breaking Barriers panel at the Sundance Film Festival last January, was so impressed with the programs that she gave a donation on top of attending the gala.