Still from Buckjumping (photo provided by: Lily Keber)
In 2013 filmmaker Lily Keber released Bayou Maharajah, her award-winning documentary on the larger-than-life times of New Orleans piano legend James Booker, and many are still taking notice. “It’s been nice to see the life that it has,” says Keber who still gets emails from people just having caught the film on Netflix. “It took so long to finish and then to get it released out in the world— yeah…five years. It’s like that kid would be in kindergarten right now!”
Since then, Keber has stayed busy doing freelance work with the likes of Beyoncé, Preservation Hall, and The Arcade Fire and working on two new documentaries, Buckjumping and Apres Nous, the first of which is done filming and in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for editing and release.
Buckjumping is about the deeply embedded dance cultures that exist in the city, but even more so about the individuals who maintain and expand those traditions. The film follows six communities through the streets of New Orleans “…as they celebrate, disrupt, resist, teach their young, bury their dead, and find spiritual transcendence,” according to the film’s Kickstarter page. “Anyone who’s been in the middle of a second line knows that this doesn’t happen anywhere else, and it can’t happen anywhere else,” says Keber. “That’s not how people move where I’m from.”
Unlike most film and TV crews who venture over to the Big Easy, Keber isn’t interested in perpetuating tired tropes about the city and the people who live here. “It’s a fine line between…making a film that pays homage to a culture versus [one] that pimps out a culture,” she says. “It’s definitely very important to me— as a filmmaker, as a media maker, as someone not from here, as someone who has the responsibility of representing other people’s image on film—It’s important to me to make sure that I’m doing that right.”
Doing it right in many ways starts with listening intently to whoever’s story you want to tell. “[It’s] not just listening for, like, what can I pilfer from this to make a sexy, sellable film? It’s always what is going on here on a deeper level, on a spiritual level, on a community level,” she says. “I feel like that’s always the first step in filmmaking— to listen a lot first and then try to work with the people…to develop what sort of a story they want to tell as well.”
Keber, who’s a North Carolina-native, was heavily influenced by filmmakers associated with Appalshop in southeastern Kentucky, a community organization that aims to “document the life, celebrate the culture, and voice the concerns of people living in Appalachia and rural America,” according to their website.
“I went there and interned with several film makers [and] I’m from the Southern Appalachian…from a place where ‘hillbillies’ and Appalachians have always been misrepresented and made fun of as the butt of jokes.” Moving to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Keber saw similarities in how media organizations from around the country depicted the region and its people in many times a flawed or superficial way. “Maybe we understand what it is to not be part of the media making process.”
Another huge influence on both Keber and Buckjumping is legendary documentary filmmaker Les Blank, whose 1978 film Always for Pleasure profiled New Orleans’ second line and musical culture. In fact, one of Keber’s best memories from touring with Bayou Maharajah was meeting Les Blank and being invited to stay at his house in California, “Up on stage, I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to raise some money and I need a place to stay next weekend in San Francisco,’ and Les Blank of all people walked up to me afterwards he’s like, ‘Well, I can’t help you with the money, but you can stay at my place in Berkeley!’ Oh my god, I almost passed out,” she says laughing. “Getting to meet him in person and seeing the generosity that he gave to a young filmmaker starting out, [who had] never made a film before, that was really very encouraging.”
You can find out more about Lily Keber on her website at www.lilykeber.com. Her Kickstarter for Buckjumping is live now and will run until Wednesday, March 14th. It can be found at www.kickstarter.com/projects/521191680/buckjumping.