The 30th edition of the New Orleans Film Festival kicked off Wednesday night with Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. Sadly, the film’s stars could not make it but that didn’t stop the city from having a party that started out a little differently from the years before: the normally bustling Roosevelt Way in front of the legendary Orpheum Theater, where opening nights are traditionally held, was unusually quiet. Less than a block away is the site of the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel. The construction mess-up forced authorities to close off the surrounding streets for fear of further damage and caused traffic jams in and around the Downtown area. But Nola is not L.A. traffic hell, and its citizens will never let something like this keep them home. Local filmmaker Lily Keber said it best: “It’s a tragedy. But we’re going to turn out."
And so, the red carpet was flooded with well-dressed, best-dressed and over-dressed guests nonetheless, because when New Orleanians do something, they do it right and they do it big.
Especially on such a big anniversary. As always, after the screening, guests danced their way through a second line parade down the street to the after-party at Gallier Hall where The Cole Williams Band played. And this was just the first of altogether eight soirées, where the networking takes place in a relaxed way, quite unlike the forced atmosphere that often permeates parties at Cannes, Berlin and the likes.
But the NOFF – despite being famous for its parties – is a lot more than that: no other festival connects artists and filmmakers so wonderfully, celebrates emerging directors and helps boost Southern-made films with such diligence, not just during this one festival but all year round with workshops, study groups, and fundraisers. This year, 240 films comprised the week-long program, including those of newcomers, minorities and yes, a few award hopefuls who have made the rounds at the big three fall festivals (Venice, Telluride, and Toronto) already.
It is a shame that distributors and studios do not recognize the importance of another PR push of their films in October after the preceding big September festivals and do not send star power to New Orleans to boost their products. Actors and directors who have been there and worked there adore this city. And the creators of works like James Mangold’s action drama Ford vs. Ferrari, Just Mercy with Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson, Scott Burns’ political drama The Report, starring Adam Driver and Annette Bening, Taika Waititi’s World War II satire Jojo Rabbit, Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery Knives Out, Fernando Meirelles’ dramedyThe Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, would surely have enjoyed a visit.
Aside from big names, though, this festival has enough to offer besides the screenings, says New Orleans Film Society Executive Director Fallon Young: “The festival grows every year, and we’ve added some things we’re proud of this year.” That includes an initiative to link local filmmakers and musicians. A virtual reality set-up that festival attendees can try out at the CAC, the hub of NOFF. And, of course, an hour-long “In Conversation” with Kim Cattrall on Sunday at noon, hosted by this HFPA reporter.
The closing night film is the Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons, the director who many years ago opened her fantastic Eve’s Bayou at the festival.