People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

How locals experience Mardi Gras

Posted by schroeder915 on February 17, 2006

Having not seen the film (but I intend to), I’ll just say it appears that the film captures just a sliver of the Mardi Gras experience — and I don’t mean that as a slight on what looks like a great film. I just mean that everyone has different traditions. The experience of whites is largely different from the experience of blacks, Uptowner’s experiences are different from those who live in Mid City or nearer the French Quarter, all of which is incomparably better than anything in Metairie or the West Bank.

This came to me via email:

Get a jump start on this weekend’s Carnival parades by watching DONT WORRY HONEY, I LIVE HERE – HOW LOCALS CELEBRATE MARDI GRAS late-night tonight at 2:05 on ABC26!

If you’re not a night owl you can order the film that “feels like a little miracle” (Times-Picayune’s Dave Walker, see article below) at DVDs are only $15.

A limited supply of “advance screener” DVDs of HEXING A HURRICANE are also available at …

Thanks again… AND HAPPY MARDI GRAS!!! Cheers, Jeremy Campbell Director/Producer

Local documentary maker captures the spirit and quirks of Carnival
By Dave Walker

Shot over three Carnival seasons using the words of some of its most enthusiastic participants, a new documentary captures the local rite we’re all hoping has weathered the storm.

Combining street footage the title comes from an odd encounter with bicycle-jousting revelers and dozens of interviews, it’s an offhand, offbeat journey into a spiritual celebration that can’t be fully explained, just experienced.

If you’re lucky.

Jeremy Campbell, a former promotions producer at WGNO-Channel 26, made his movie by taking a video camera along during his own early Carnival explorations.

“I was just bright-eyed and excited about finally living in New Orleans,” said Campbell, an Austin, Texas, native who grew up in Alabama. “I’d been a fan of New Orleans music all my life. I was finally here, and I just wanted to document as much of my experience as possible.”

He intercut his found footage with off-season interviews with local characters ranging from float designer/historian Henri Schindler to a few of the dudes from Morning 40 Federation. Many of the interviews are appropriately bleary. But many exude daffy eloquence.

“People are at their fullest potential,” says Anders Osborne of Mardi Gras. “Both ways, good and bad, so to speak. They’re loaded with this day. It feels like a little miracle that there’s a day like that.”

What better way to explore Mardi Gras than by seeing it from the bandstand?

“Choosing the musicians was just sort of a way for me to get up close and personal with people I respected a lot,” Campbell said. “Partly out of that respect, I wanted to preserve their stories. I thought it was important that their Mardi Gras memories were somewhere on the record.

“They’re in the trenches, and at the same time they have a bird’s-eye view.”

Other interviewees include Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins, Jason Marsalis, Stanton Moore, John Sinclair, Johnny Angel, Rosie Ledet, Marva Wright, Benny Grunch, Irene Sage and Charmaine Neville.

To Campbell’s delight, the musicians he approached cheerfully cooperated.

“No one said no,” Campbell said. “One of the things I sort of laugh about now looking back is that at the time I was sort of this kid with my little video camera. Everybody said, ‘Sure, come to my show!’

“Locals have a passionate opinion on Mardi Gras. Everyone was more than willing to share that.”

Campbell worked on the documentary for years, but Hurricane Katrina — and the threat it posed to this most precious celebration motivated him to get it done and distributed. Curious viewers unable to make its air date Saturday at 2:05 a.m., which most people probably consider late-night tonight can visit and order the DVD, which will contain scenes excised for broadcast, plus extras.

Another Campbell film worth checking out is “Hexing a Hurricane.” That one features post-Katrina musings by several local lights, including Times-Picayune Living columnist Chris Rose, Harry Anderson, Garland Robinette and Angela Hill. Air date for a cut-down version of the hurricane film is scheduled for 2:35 a.m. March 3 (actually very late Thursday, for habitual night owls) on WGNO. It’s also available from the Web site.

It opens with mid-summer footage of a voodoo ceremony intended to indemnify the city from hurricane damage, and eventually circles back for a “What happened?” return to the voodoo practitioners.

“I’ve got (the same) story so many people have,” said Campbell, explaining how he came to live here.

Working elsewhere, visiting New Orleans a lot. Quit the job to move to New Orleans just because. Worked as barista for a while, then at Offbeat magazine. He sidelined several documentaries while working at Channel 26.

And he shot Mardi Gras with a $300 camera. Some of the footage is shaky. The lighting is sometimes raw. And interview subjects sometimes hold Campbell’s clip-on microphone while they ramble.

The film feels like a little miracle, in other words.

“The hurricane definitely pushed me over the edge to find a way to do it, find a way to get the money and to clean it up,” he said. “It just seemed like there was a possibility that people might forget all of that color, in the midst of the sort of black-and-white days we’re in right now.

“While it might be somewhat melancholy, at the same time it’s important for it to stand as a reminder of what was, and what I think will be again.”


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