2021 New Orleans Film Festival: Nov. 5-21

Published on: November 2nd, 2021

The 2021 New Orleans Film Festival is happening November 5-21! For this year's experience, the New Orleans Film Society has again created a combination festival involving venues across the city, plus outdoor open air cinemas and at-home streaming experiences.

After receiving over 3000 submissions from 104 countries for the 32nd anniversary of the festival, the NOFF's seasoned team of programmers selected a slate of 170 films in competition that represent a wealth of perspectives. Overall, films directed by women and gender non-conforming directors account for 64% of the lineup, and films helmed by directors of color make up 73% of the lineup, with 36% of films coming from Black directors. Films made in the American South represent 60%, and Louisiana-made films represent 22% of the lineup and the directors of selected films represent 24 different nationalities. Additionally, the lineup boasts 28 world premieres and 11 US premieres. Check out the full film guide at this link. Film passes, schedule, descriptions, and much more can be found at the New Orleans Film Fest's website.

A number of this year's films celebrate music in a unique way. Below, a few of our picks of either musical or local interest!

Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma
In 1970, a group of Black educators in Chicago developed a flashcard set the Alphabet in order to provide Black centered teaching materials to a vastly White landscape of textbooks and learning materials. The Black ABCs were born. Now 50 years later, as artist Topaz Jones debuts his 2nd album, Don't Go Tellin’ Your Momma is a view into his and America's Black Identity through 26 individual scenes, each representing a letter and Topaz's corresponding update to their meanings.

Ghost Girl
During a late-night rehearsal for a potentially life-changing audition, the performance of Ashley and Michelle's friendship crumbles.

You Can't Stop Spirit
Dating back to the 19th Century, the emergence of the Baby Dolls is deeply controversial. Some women associate the tradition with prostitution and the need to create networks of protection and community. For others, the Baby Dolls grew from a tradition of distinguished and highly respected women. In a broad sense, masking culture is an alternative social space where people can express themselves through activities that are normally considered socially unacceptable. On Mardi Gras, Black women experience a new freedom; one in which they are able to reclaim culture, tradition and freedom while challenging society's perception on how Black women are to act and exist in the world.

Ya Heard Me?
Made in collaboration with Dancing Ground's youth dance company, young people explore oscillating emotions as they navigate Covid-19 restrictions while simultaneously processing and participating in the heavy social and political climate around the country.

What Remains
As oysters journey from Barataria Bay to restaurants in New Orleans and back again, we meet the people and places most threatened by climate change and land loss and witness an emergent effort to fight back against this change.

We Stay In The House
We Stay In the House provides an intimate portrait of four mothers in New Orleans as they struggle to care for their families and themselves throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Between taking care of their children, finding time to work, and coping with personal loss and health crises, these womens’ stories represent the lived realities of millions of mothers in America.

Untitled Post-Baby Project A young woman struggles with postpartum depression while trying to adjust to new motherhood.

U Tense Soul
Told through his own words, Elijah, a young artist living in New Orleans searches for a new home.

This Body
This Body explores the fraught relationship between African Americans and the medical industry. As Sydney Hall participates in an experimental coronavirus vaccine trial in hopes of protecting her beloved New Orleans community, she and her loved ones confront the history of medical abuse and experimentation on Black bodies.

Terry + Sam
A modern take on a thirty-something couple as they grapple their differences while living together.

Sinking of the Natchez (Grounding Exercise No. 13)
this Machine kills Nostalgia. at the corner of Calliope and Calamity, a Fusillade and Formation arrayed amid placid antebellum aestheticization. and Feathers will Fly. Sound design by Sermon Popgun's Smearmory for Doe-eyed Tatterdemalions. With percussion by the St. Augustine High School Marching 100.

River Queen: Winter's End
This introductory self-portrait follows first-time filmmaker and musician Grace Gibson as she traverses through a musical world of magical realism set in New Orleans, based on her original compositions, and steeped in generations of her Louisianan roots.

Pearl and Henry
A couple enjoys the simple pleasures of daily routine despite the ever-changing world.

New Orleans: Organizing and Abolition
New Orleans, summer, 2020: Thousands of people are organizing mutual aid, and taking to the streets to demand systemic change; including demands to defund the police and shift resources to housing, healthcare and jobs

New Nickels
New Nickels explores the healing journeys of five Black women living with HIV, as they emerge from the shadows and find community, self-acceptance and love.

Ms. Blue
On a humid New Orleans summer day, an elderly Ms. Blue sits on her porch waiting to be greeted by the charming Mr. Oscar.

I Am One Of The People
Harmful chemicals are disproportionately affecting Black communities in Southern Louisiana along the Mississippi River. This experimental film explores the environmental racism that has plagued these communities for decades.

How To Program Your Animatronic Bird
Instructions on the dying and painstaking art of programming a lovingly restored animatronic band. With musical accompaniment by Sexparty.

After breaking up with his longtime partner, a mute clown named Happy searches for community in a world that does not understand him.

Different Mardi Gras
When New Orleans cancelled parades & closed bars for Mardi Gras 2021, musicians, culture bearers, artists & club owners find new ways to celebrate their cherished holiday.

Descended From The Promised Land: The Legacy of Black Wall Street
In 1921, North Tulsa’s Greenwood District, the most prosperous Black community in America, was set ablaze, bombed, and looted during a racially motivated violent attack against the thriving Black community. Businesses, homes, and lives were lost, and Black Wall Street, as it was known, has never reclaimed its former glory. Through the lens of Black Wall Street descendants Byron Crenshaw, Jacqueline Blocker and Michelle Blocker, we draw a century-long thread from the Tulsa Race Massacre to the present, exploring the lingering economic, psychological and emotional impacts that have undermined the rebuilding of the once thriving community.

Death Is Our Business
Death Is Our Business takes viewers inside Black-owned funeral homes in New Orleans, following funeral directors grappling with pandemic restrictions and ways to safely comfort a grieving city.

Blue Country
As a hurricane approaches, an injured woman with a jacket full of cash collapses at the doorstep of Macon, a stubborn Louisiana hermit, who must decide whether to intervene or let nature run its course.

Anastasia Ebel, owner of the BABYBANGZ hair salon in Mid-City, New Orleans, reflects on her continuing desire to cultivate spaces of intentional reflection for both herself and her local New Orleans community.

Bayou For Us
Director Mizani Ball was displaced by Hurricane Katrina as a child. Her film Bayou for Us is a reclamation of her ties to her hometown and shows how one small street has become a safe haven and a place of opportunity for Black natives in New Orleans.

Bad Boy of Bonsai
Bad Boy of Bonsai is an experimental art house documentary that focuses on Guy Guidry, a Louisiana local, and his passion for bonsai.

A city performs a purification ritual.

Mary Queen of Vietnam
The post-Vietnam War diaspora found Vietnamese people in enclaves all across the United States, and one such community thrives right here in New Orleans. Go behind the scenes of the annual Tet Festival from planning to celebration, and hear the testimonies of Vietnamese-Americans who have called New Orleans home for three generations. From Vietnam War refugees to New Orleans-born descendants and newly arrived Vietnam-born children, they all gather under the Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church to share their histories and what it means to be a part of this thriving community.

The Laughing Man
Director Zach Godshall met Thomas Alan Williamson ten years ago in Baton Rouge, Lousiana when he cast him in his films. Thomas, a part-time actor in his 50s defies all expectations. Facing trauma, mental illness, homelessness, and isolation, Thomas's joy, optimism, and most of all laughter paint the portrait of a man in love with life despite the odds being stacked against him. Thomas would like to visit his dying father in East Texas who he has become enstranged from but every day is a struggle to survive. Director Zack Godshall navigates his own complicated relationship with Thomas as the lines between director, collaborator, friend and caregiver are blurred. The Laughing Man weaves verité footage, first-person accounts and Thomas' own writing in this intimate look into his struggles, his strained relationship with his father, his perseverance and his optimism to appreciate life's beauty.

City of A Million Dreams
Why do we dance for the dead? Jazz funerals, famous the world over, have origins shrouded in mystery. This film explores race relations at a tearing time in American life by following burial traditions as a lens on the evolution of New Orleans and its resilient culture.

With filming of jazz funerals spanning twenty-five years, and riveting sequences on the burial dances of enslaved Africans, “City of a Million Dreams” shows the cultural memory of Black New Orleans and rituals of resilience as never before.

New Orleans jazz funerals and Sunday second line parades absorb the pain of death and the legacy of racism, soaring to joyful, transcendent rebirth. But a violent storm and a parade shooting plunge musician Michael White and culture carrier Deb "Big Red" Cotton into a search for the city’s soul.

The Bengali
India is a place only real to Fatima Shaik in the legacy of her grandfather Shaik Mohammed Musa. An African-American writer whose family has lived in Louisiana for four generations, Fatima travels from her hometown of New Orleans to a remote part of India where no African American or American has ever been--a world unknown to her except in the stories she grew up with and the memorabilia her grandfather left behind. The journey that took place four generations before her will be retraced as Fatima takes off to India in search of her roots. Will she find what she is seeking? Or will Fatima’s privilege and status as an outsider keep her from achieving the cultural catharsis she so desperately wants?

TM Landry College Prep, an unconventional, unaccredited K-12 school in rural Louisiana gained national media attention for sending black students to Ivy League universities. It also became known for its unconventional, and often ruthless, teaching methods employed by its founder, Mike Landry, who will stop at nothing to make sure his students are accepted to prestigious colleges. When the New York Times publishes an exposé on his controversial methods, a group of seniors must determine for themselves how far they will go to achieve the future they want. Accepted follows these seniors as they near graduation, making difficult choices as they struggle to define success for themselves. The film examines the inequities and failures of the educational system, the myth of meritocracy, and the enormous price of the college admissions process to be accepted.

100 Years from Mississippi
111-year-old Mamie Kirkland spent one hundred years away from her birthplace, Ellisville, Mississippi. In 1915, when Mamie was seven years old, Mamie's father and his friend John Hartfield were threatened by a lynch-mob, forcing the Kirkland family to flee to East St. Louis and never look back. Four years later John Hartfield returned to Ellisville and was murdered. Mamie vowed never to return to Mississippi. Mamie's son Tarabu grew up hearing about John Hartfield, never knowing if the story was true, until 2015, when he discovered an article about his lynching. In that moment, the film was born. Through Tarabu's urging and support, Mamie agrees to confront her childhood trauma and embarks on a path of healing and empowerment as she journeys back to Mississippi. Like many of the six million African Americans who fled the South, Mamie's extraordinary story is a testament to the courage, wisdom and hope of her generation.

The Neutral Ground
The failure to remove Confederate monuments is a constant reminder of how America continues to perpetuate racism and fails to repair the damage it has caused. Narrated by writer and comedian CJ Hunt, The Neutral Ground follows Hunt's exploration into Confederate monuments and the ideology of the The Lost Cause of the Confederecy. The film begins in CJ's adopted home of New Orleans where the fight to remove Confederate monuments sparked a nation-wide movement and follows CJ as he travels across the country. He hears perspectives on both sides of the issue, exploring the history of these monuments, the backlash against their removal, and the possibility of a future without them. CJ confronts questions of continued inequality, America's contentious and dark past, and his own complicated feelings. Scathingly funny, and painfully relevant, it is a refreshing journey between the past and the present as we stand in this moment of significant social change.

Sweet Soul
Sweet Soul follows 1960s Soul Singer Helene Smith as she returns to the recording booth for the first time in forty years.

Stay Prayed Up
The only thing mightier than "Mother" Lena Mae Perry’s electrifying voice is her faith. 82-year old Mother Perry has been the leader of the legendary North Carolina gospel group, The Branchettes for the past 50 years. After gracing churches all across the American South, the Branchettes will reach a final milestone of recording their first ever fully live album, a hallmark in the canon of Black Gospel groups. Mounting health concerns of long-time friend and pianist Wilbur Tharpe heighten the urgency of recording the album. Determined to complete the recording is the group's producer, Phil Cook, a white Wisconsin musician who could not be more different than Mother Perry but shares her deep love for gospel music. With the declining health of aging members of The Branchettes, this album may be their last chance to capture the energy, power, and faith that has made their music so captivating for decades.

Sirens of the Swamp
Two sirens banished to the swamps by their mother, Venus, dream of making it big in a rock band. Only problem is: they keep killing their audience. Tensions mount as sisterly competition and isolation tears the band apart.

Shared Resources
Filmed over five years, Shared Resources follows director Jordan Lord and their parents, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, after the debt from Jordan's Ivy League education and the loss of their father's job as a debt collector force the family to declare bankruptcy. Open captions and audio descriptions provide access to Blind and Deaf audiences and provide an intimate insight into the the family as they comment on the filmmaking itself, their own self consciousness and how they see themselves portrayed. An exploration of the parallels between debt management and documentary filmmaking, the film explores issues of access, consent and collaboration. How will this new reality impact this family who, in one way or another, are bonded in debt to one other?

Ivy is a struggling singer performing with her band at dive bars and jazz clubs around New Orleans. Though she is determined to work as hard as possible, there are things outside her control conspiring to prevent her from achieving any real level of success. One of those things is the fact that she is slowly turning into a monster.

Shapeless is an allegory for the all-encompassing hold disordered eating can have on a person’s life. Ivy’s bulimia consumes her, depicted as an addiction that feeds her gruesome transformation. She is unable to balance her musical goals with her necessary day job and her constant sense of shame around food. The shame grows and takes on an increasingly large portion of her concentration. After learning that the bulimia is having a major and likely irreversible effect on her voice, Ivy falls into a tailspin, accelerating the monstrous mutations.

When the opportunity finally comes knocking, Ivy is forced to come to terms with her disordered eating or risk losing all she has fought for. Superbly acted by Kelly Murtagh as Ivy, Shapeless provides an intimate, honest look at how an invasive disease can haunt every moment of life. – Greta Hagen-Richardson

The Seeds We Keep
A love song for the land, for generational wisdom, and for the vital questions that come with making your place in it. Cultural preservationist Gabrielle E. W. Carter unfolds a lush vision of what is and what could be in her meditation on Black land ownership and seed saving in the face of erasure.

On the eve of her cotillion ball, a young Black girl grapples with her queer identity and questions her purity.

Peruse the entire lineup at neworleansfilmsociety.org/film-guide/.

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