NOFF 2017 Opening Night

The 28th Annual New Orleans Film Festival Kicks Off Tonight

Oct 11, 2017 By Zach Hollwedel
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In addition to Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Film Festival is one of the best times of year in the Big Easy. For a week and a half, Tinseltown descends upon "Hollywood South," infusing a city that already knows how to transform any day of the week into a Bacchanalian celebration with films, glitz, and more parties than can fit on any one social calendar. Now in its 28th year, the NOFF continues to grow into and around its city, adding venues, events, panels, and more, while expanding its partnerships and spreading across New Orleans like a late summer night's fog. After a year of waiting for the festivities to begin anew, Opening Night is finally upon us.

The lineup this year is one of the most exciting one to date in the festival's nearly three-decade long history (this year's fest runs October 11-19). The Florida Project, opens the festival with Sean Baker's follow-up to the inspired and boundless 2015 award-winning Tangerine. The film, which is already a solid contender for Under the Radar's list of best films of the year, stars Brooklynn Prince as imaginative six-year-old Moonee and Willem Dafoe as the manager of the budget motel near Disney World in which Moonee lives. At least one of the film's producers is slated to appear on the red carpet before the screening, as are many of the celebrities making their way to the Crescent City for the festivities. As has become a tradition at NOFF, after the film, Kinfolk Brass Band will lead a second line parade from the screening venue to the Opening Night Party. Because this is New Orleans and drinking in public is practically de rigueur, the booze will flow down the street to the party in the Central Business District.



On Saturday the 14th, the festival's highly anticipated Centerpiece Screening, Mudbound debuts a month in advance of its limited theatrical release. Demand for the film had been so great since tickets first went on sale that the festival's (truly stellar) producers have already added a second screening. Set in the Mississippi Delta during World War Two, director Dee Rees' buzz-worthy film follows two families struggling to make a living as farmers. Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan are a couple who eschew Memphis with dreams of agrarian success, while Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige play long-time sharecroppers hoping to realize their own modest dreams in the face of a still deeply segregated South.

Closing night features director Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, in which Armie Hammer (of The Social Network) plays a 24-year-old research assistant on summer break in Italy in the early 1980s. While on vacation, he and 17-year-old Elio fall furtively for one another and hesitantly test the undeniable feelings between them. Call Me By Your Name has already been garnering awards on the international festival cirtuit and will be a hot ticket here in New Orleans.

Five Spotlight Films dot the festival this year. Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman is already receiving potential Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, which is sure to sell out its screening at the Prytania Theater uptown. Chadwick Boseman is also turning heads for his work as Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, which premieres Thursday and caps off the fest's first full day of programming. Bryan Cranston stars in two of the Spotlight Films-The Upside is a remake of the French film, Les Intouchables and costars Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman, Juliana Margulies, and Aja Naomi King; Last Flag Flying finds Cranston on a funereal road trip with fellow Vietnam Navy Corps vets played by Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne. And The Current War stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, two inventors locked in a heated rivalry over the future of electric power.

Gabourey Sidibe will be on hand to present her directorial debut. The Tale of Four is a 20-minute short inspired by Nina Simone's "Four Women" and Sidibe will sit down with Slate writer Aisha Harris for a live recording conversation about the film for Slate's Represent podcast. New Orleans native Patricia Clarkson is also participating in an hour-long conversation on the same day, which is open to all festival attendees. Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, creators of TBS' Search Party will also participate in a free dialogue sponsored by the Helis Foundation.

Obviously, not every film in the lineup stars A-list celebrities. Despite an incredible selection of featured films, NOFF is still very much about the independent filmmaker. From panels on distribution and Kickstarter strategies, to roundtables on budgeting and funding strategies, to practice pitch sessions and networking events, NOFF's schedule features a robust slate of programming designed to help emerging filmmakers harness and propel their careers. It's also worth mentioning here that the makeup of the filmmakers represented is extremely commendable. Of over 400 filmmakers (and 230 films between them), 45% of the directors are artists of color, and 53% are either female or gender non-conforming.

In truth, one of my favorite elements of the festival is not that it draws such laudable awards-contenders (although, don't get me wrong; I booked my tickets for The Florida Project, Mudbound, and The Darkest Hour as soon as I was able.) No, the strength of the festival is that, as grand and alluring as it has gotten, the Academy-accredited New Orleans Film Festival remains steadfastly committed to its roots. It's nearly impossible to attend without catching at least one film made locally, and there are blocks of both Louisiana-made shorts and features specifically curated each year, in addition to any further Louisiana-made films that might play as parts of other lineups.

For example, Fat Tuesday, a horror film set on Mardi Gras itself and shot mere blocks from its screening venue, appropriately makes its world premiere on Friday the 13th. AS IS By Nick Cave documents Cave's eight months spent developing a four-part performance while acting as artist-in-residence
at Louisiana's Shreveport Regional Arts Council; director Evan Falbaum will be in attendance at the screening. Do U Want It? uses the rise of New Orleans-based band Papa Grows Funk as the lens through which it explores the dichotomy between success and happiness.

Of course, more than cinema, New Orleans is known for music. And the musicians slated to play at this year's parties are some of The Big Easy's most famous talents. Big Freedia, Queen of Bounce, headlines Saturday night's Diva Dance Fever, which will also feature the world premiere of Tropical Punch, Freedia's and director Wilberto Lucci 's short documentary about NOLA Bounce Music. Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns will get the whole house swinging when they play the Friday the 13th Mansion Party in an 1850s mansion on the French Quarter's eastern border, the oak-lined historic Esplanade Avenue. Other parties include a pool party at the relatively newly-opened The Drifter Hotel, drinks and bites at the elegant Pontchartrain Hotel in the uptown Garden District, and a Thriller Party (inspired by Michael Jackson's song) in the Art Garage, part of the St. Claude Arts Corridor in the Upper Ninth Ward (and, convenient for me, my personal stomping grounds).

If it sounds like a lot, that's because it is. The festival is as exhausting as it is fun, and I love every minute of it. (You can check out the full schedule here.) It's wonderful to see so many incredible filmmakers and so many great films flock to the city I have called home for three and a half years now. Even for a (new) local like myself, I'm amazed by how much culture and how many places in this city the festival exposes me to-how many restaurants and bars and venues. Every year, the producers add new experiences and support new and rotating local businesses, further embracing their city. The New Orleans Film Festival is the perfect staycation for a Big Easy cinephile. And sure, it's also a great excuse to raise a glass (or two) to all the wildly talented people with films in contention. Laissez les bon temp rouler!



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