This Wednesday marks the beginning of the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival, an event produced each year by the New Orleans Film Society. As the festival enters its 29th year, their focus has expanded to incorporate a large number of highly anticipated releases— such as Barry Jenkin’s If Beale Street Could Talk— as well as locally produced and filmed features, documentaries and shorts.
“The festival features about 230 films and about 180 screening events,” says Fallon Young, Executive Director for the New Orleans Film Society. And that’s not all, there will also be 11 industry parties and 19 panels and roundtables focused on filmmaking and professional development. “We host about 400 film makers at the event, “ says Young, “So it’s a great opportunity to meet creatives who are telling the stories of our time.”
Putting together the festival each year is a feat in itself. “We have about 50 seasonal staff that come on leading up to the festival and about 250 volunteers without whom we could not run a festival of this scale,” says Fallon. They’re even building a 300 seat theatre this year at the Contemporary Arts Center to help expand the amount of selections offered. This is due to the festival’s growth in the past five years, which has happened in large part to its Academy accreditation and Oscar qualifying categories. “That means submissions have skyrocketed,” she says. “We actually watched 6,000 films this year with the help of a small army of local screeners leading up to the festival.”
“So basically a lot of heart, a lot of late nights, and a lot of volunteers are how we get it done.”
On topics of representation and diversity in film, NOFF has tried to push in a forward direction in signing the “50/50 by 2020” pledge in order create more parity in the film industry. “It covers everything from the board and staff level to being transparent about who’s submitting and who [we] are accepting and whose voices get to rise in this process,” says Young, “80 percent of the films in the festival this year are either by a woman or a filmmaker of color— which are voices that mainstream film industry does not prioritize.” NOFF also runs a year round mentorship program for filmmakers of color in Louisiana called Emerging Voices. “It pairs emerging directors with a mentor that can really open doors for them,” says Young, and many of the mentors have been high-profile industry insiders such as Lisa Cortez who produced the award-winning film Precious.
And then there are the actual movies, which include a wide variety of genres and voices (27 percent of which hail from Louisiana or New Orleans). Here are five films—out of a list of dozens, so it was really hard to narrow down— that we’re excited to see:
Roma – From the lens of award-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Children of Men) and his first production in six years, Roma looks like it will be an exciting and intimate return to form. Set in Mexico City during the political strife of the 1970s and inspired by Cuarón’s childhood, this movie is one not to miss. Screening Monday, October 22, at 7:30PM, The Prytania Theatre.
Buckjumping – Lily Keber jumped into the New Orleans filmmaking scene with a bang in 2013’s James Booker documentary Bayou Maharajah. Her second feature length film, Buckjumping, will have its world premiere at the festival and looks to be an absolute delight. Highlighting New Orleans’ unique and diverse dance culture, the film follows the men and women who work to keep traditions alive and also see them evolve. According to Fallon Young, “If you’re not standing on your feet just screaming with joy at the end of it I’ll be shocked.” Screening Sunday, October 21, 7:00PM, The Orpheum Theater.
Louisiana Shorts: Neighborhood – Don’t limit yourself to just full-length features when there are more than enough interesting short films screening at the fest to keep you occupied. One of the ones I ‘m looking forward to the most is a screening of Louisiana-based shorts from various directors around the idea of neighborhoods and their place in our history and community. With films focusing on everything from a neighborhood corner store’s importance to a community (The Place To Be) to the Industrial Canal’s tumultuous history and effect on its surroundings (Locked), this curated dive will certainly worth your time. Screening Tuesday October 23, 7:30PM, Prytania Theatre and Thursday October 25, 4:00PM, The Ranch Theater at CAC.
Widows – I’ve been waiting for this one’s release for a couple of years and am so psyched to see it on the roster—though not surprised considering director Steve McQueen’s last film, 12 Years a Slave, was such a fixation at 2013’s festival. The cast is absolutely stacked, featuring acting powerhouse Viola Davis, cult-favorite Michelle Rodriquez, Broadway actress and singer Cynthia Erivo, and rising star Elizabeth Debicki in the leads, as well as Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Lukas Haas and Brian Tyree Henry. If you’re up for a challenging and poignant thriller, look no further. Screening Saturday, October 20th, 2:25 PM, at the Prytania Theater.
Waru – One of the most unique features to hit the festival’s lineup, Waru is a collaborative film consisting of eight different segments each helmed by a different person, all Maori women. The story centers on a community devastated by the death of a child and, “…foregrounds a matriarchal vision of society in which women’s stories are the most integral and powerful.” Screening Wednesday, October 24, 6:00PM, The Advocate and again Thursday, October 25, 1:30PM, The Advocate.