New Orleans is city of neon lights and night owls. In a place known for its vibrant and diverse culture – restaurants and bars are open all night, live music can be heard on every corner, and the streets are crowded with midnight revelers – one thing is certain, New Orleans comes alive at night.
And though a tourism-focused destination, it is not only the Big Easy visitors that come out when the sun goes down, but locals too. Whether partaking in the festivities or just shuffling to and from work, natives are the most intrinsic part of late-night NOLA.
It is this realm of New Orleans that the documentary Tchoupitoulas (such a uniquely New Orleans name that only locals can pronounce) tries to capture. With a fly-on-the-wall approach, the film’s directors/brothers Bill and Turner Ross, navigate the streets, waterways, and hidden treasures of our fair city. Tchoupitoulas is the second feature-length doc from the Ross brothers (there first was 45365, an award-winning look at life in a small Ohio town). Their approach to filmmaking is simple, but important, “a search for truth . . . . real moments captured.”
With no real plan, the Ross Bros began filming around the city. They wanted to seek out the kind of New Orleans they remembered from childhood trips, but without specifically trying to recapture it. They reveal their approach by saying, “There is a foundation, but you have to let it play out on its own.”
After months of shooting and hours of footage, they finally found their muse, or in this case, muses – three young brothers from Algiers (the filmmakers call their meeting "serendipitous"). Through their new surrogates, the Ross Bros. set out to experience and capture New Orleans at night through the eyes of a child.
After missing the last ferry home, the boys – Bryan, Kentrell, and William – set off on an odyssey down Canal and Bourbon (the titular Tchoupitoulas is never seen - "We just like the name, its uniquely New Orleans," the brothers clarify). The older brothers navigate the way as the youngest, William, trails behind, his tiny frame dancing in the streetlights and asking an endless series of random, yet entertaining questions.
Along the way, the film takes occasional brief asides away from the brothers to explore the various music joints and strip clubs that line the city’s famous streets. It is here where the audience is treated to the New Orleans experience you would expect – full of bright colors, loud music, street performers, and oyster shuckers. In the footage following the boys, we see that same famous New Orleans through the innocent and wide-eyed fascination of the young guides. The brothers also lead us off on an adventure into the lesser known parts of the city, including empty ferry terminals and a fascinating and thrilling exploration of a once grandiose, now abandoned ship eerily docked on the riverfront.
Without a clear structure or focused storyline, Tchoupitoulas is woven like a loose mosaic of images and sounds, captured beautifully with the dream-like, hazy detachment of an observant, but unobtrusive camera. All together, the film captures a different side of New Orleans, while still showing its unique and free-wheelin’ spirit. Though populated with so much history, attractions, and colorful characters, the film makes it clear how real the city is – that people actually live here and help make New Orleans what it is. With the motto “Be a part of the experience and see where it takes you,” Tchoupitoulas is clearly a handmade, personal film – and a very enjoyable, picturesque one at that.
Tchoupitoulas premiered last year to rave reviews at the SXSW Festival and later at Hot Docs. A local preview screening was held at the Sync-Up Conference as a part of Jazz Fest last year and also played at a special outdoor screening in the French Quarter hosted by the New Orleans Film Society. The film is co-produced by Court 13, the same NOLA-based production company behind this year’s Louisiana-filmed, Oscar nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Though Tchoupitoulas has played sparingly in the city, it opens its first true, local theatrical release Friday, January 11 at Chalmette Movies. The film will screen at 1:00, 5:15, and 7:00 p.m. daily.
Co-director Bill Ross will be present for the 5:15 & 7:00 p.m. showings on Friday night for a Q&A following the film.
Timecode:NOLA partners with the film's distributor, Oscilloscope Films, and Chalmette Movies to present the film local theatrical engagement.
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