Small Town Rage by Raydra Hall and David Hylan;
Small Town Rage

The 2017 New Orleans Film Festival will debut a new strand, titled “Change Makers” that brings to the forefront stories of social activism and advocacy. From farm workers’ union activists in the 60s, to the front lines of AIDS activism in the 80s and recent protests against Confederate monuments, Change Makers will feature nine feature-length documentary films and ten documentary short films.

Additional strands in the festival include the return of Caribbean Cinema in its third incarnation. This strand of five feature films and ten short films recognizes the historical and cultural ties between the Caribbean and New Orleans—oftentimes called the northernmost Caribbean city—and showcases the vibrant and varied landscapes and cultures of the Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora, featuring stories from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti.

Longtime festival-goers will remember previous film strands OUTakes, which spotlighted LGBTQ content, and keeping{SCORE}, which focused on music-themed films. While these strands will not be formally part of this year’s festival, the content reflected in both strands will continue to be folded into the programming in important ways.

Change-Makers Films

ACORN and the Firestorm
USA | 2017 | 84 mins
DIR: Reuben Atlas & Sam Pollard; PRD: Reuben Atlas, Sam Pollard; DP: Natalie Kingston, Frank Larson, Spencer Chumbley, Naiti Gamez; ED: Francisco Bello, Paul Greenhouse

Before it was associated with all things wrong with liberalism during the fateful 2008 election, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now wielded more power than just about any anti-poverty community rights group in American history. ACORN and the Firestorm chronicles the dramatic rise and ignominious fall of this agent of social change, as a video smear campaign from a proto-alt-right, Breitbart-backed activist takes down the group and its New Orleans-based founder Wade Rathke. Directors Reuben Atlas and NOFF alum Sam Pollard have created a work that feels like both a time capsule and a warning shot, a potent lesson in the power of media and a harrowing blueprint for our current era of alternative facts and fake news. -NS

Small Town Rage
USA | 2016 | 98 mins
DIR: Raydra Hall & David Hylan; PRD: Raydra Hall, David Hylan; ED: Clint McCommon

Narrated by Lance Bass, is an independent documentary examining the work and influence of ACT UP Shreveport in the conservative Deep South. During the early years of the AIDS pandemic, ACT UP Shreveport sought to change the way the government and the medical community handled the crisis through the same attention-grabbing protest tactics that were so successful in cities such as New York and San Francisco. As their individual stories will attest, their actions may not have made them popular, but their courage did lead to changes in the way local hospitals, government agencies, and even the public at large responded to the AIDS epidemic.

The Organizer
United States, Canada, Honduras, India, UK | 2017 | 101 mins
DIR: Nick Taylor; PRD: Joey Carey; WRI: Nick Taylor; DP: Joey Carey; ED: Nick Taylor

The Organizer charts the life, times, and philosophy of controversial community organizer Wade Rathke. As the founder and Chief Organizer of ACORN, the largest organization of low and moderate-income people in US history, Rathke grew the organization from a small group of welfare mothers in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1970 to a 500,000 member-strong political force some 30+ years later. With the sweep of an American epic, the film moves from the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement up to the precarious present day for low-income communities.

Sick to Death!
USA, Belgium | 2016 | 86 mins
DIR: Maggie Hadleigh-West; PRD: Elizabeth Dunnebacke, Catherine Reirson; WRI: Maggie Hadleigh-West; ED: Ilko Davidov, Kim Connell, David Bear

One of the most commonly misdiagnosed afflictions for women in the US is thyroid disease. The thyroid has a hand in nearly every major function in the body, making symptoms difficult to pin down, as they are comprised of common issues such as fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, and depression. Through director Maggie Hadleigh-West’s own medical journey, Sick to Death investigates the political and medical reasons thyroid disease is so often looked over and the serious health complications that can occur when left untreated. Using personal video, interviews with medical professionals and women who grapple with thyroid problems every day, Maggie seeks answers that have the potential to better her own life and those of the women around her. -AL

Tell Them We Are Rising
USA | 2017 | 90 mins
DIR: Stanley Nelson; PRD: Cyndee Readdean, Marco Williams, Stacey L. Holman; WRI: Marcia Smith; ED: Kim Miille

A haven for Black intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries—and path of promise toward the American dream—Black colleges and universities have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field. They have been unapologetically Black for more than 150 years. For the first time ever, their story is told. Directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities examines the impact Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had on American history, culture, and national identity.

On Our Watch
USA | 2017 | 59 mins
DIR: Jonathan Evans; PRD: Bruno Steiner; WRI: Jonathan Evans, Caroline Taylor; DP: Ryan Martin; ED: Jonathan Evans

This documentary presents the problem of coastal land loss in Southern Louisiana with honesty, directness, and urgency. The film features interviews with activists, professors, and community leaders who demonstrate how we got here and where we are going. The effects of sea rise and erosion in the wetlands touch down on numerous industries and influence the lives of residents throughout the Delta, including New Orleans. Solutions have been placed on the table, but they are underfunded, and civic engagement on a small scale appears to be the only route to sustainability on a larger one. But even that might be wishful thinking.

Nothing Without Us
USA | 2016 | 70 mins
DIR: Harriet Hirshorn; PRD: Harriet Hirshorn; WRI: Hilary Brougher; DP: Nadia Hallgren; ED: Mary Patierno

Since the early 90s, AIDS has largely been painted as affecting mainly white, gay males. Rich with stories, facts, and moments of hope, Nothing Without Us brings light to those who this narrative passes over.

Viewers are brought to locations as close as New Orleans, LA and Oakland, CA and as far as Nigeria, Burundi, and Spain to meet the women who stand on the front lines in the fight for equal rights and medical protection against AIDS. These women have banded together in organizations to bring medication, counseling, and—perhaps most importantly—attention to the women of color that are most afflicted by the ongoing crisis. The fight may not be over, but Nothing Without Us is threaded with the hope an end is possible.

USA | 2017 | 105 mins
DIR: Jonathan Olshefski; PRD: Sabrina Schmidt Gordon; DP: Jonathan Olshefski; ED: Lindsay Utz

Christopher and Christine’a Rainey (known as Quest and Ma to their friends and visitors to their recording studio) are an ordinary couple straining under the weight of economic hardship and a violent corner of North Philadelphia. But in the hands of director Jonathan Olshefski, they take on near-mythic status, pulling and loving their family through devastating illness, wrenching violence and the tumultuous Obama years. Intimate but never invasive, Quest is an empathetic look at coming of age, black love, poverty, race and family that takes its place among verité greats of any era. Richly illuminating a decade in the life of an extraordinary family, Quest emerges as a song of determined resilience in a time of deep uncertainty.

USA | 2017 | 95 mins
DIR: Peter Bratt; PRD: Brian Benson; WRI: Peter Bratt, Jessica Congdon; DP: Jesse Dana; ED: Jessica Congdon

Dolores Huerta is among the most important, yet least known, activists in American history. An equal partner in co-founding the first farm workers unions with Cesar Chavez, her enormous contributions have gone largely unrecognized. Dolores tirelessly led the fight for racial and labor justice alongside Chavez, becoming one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century—and she continues the fight to this day, at 87. With intimate and unprecedented access to this intensely private mother to eleven, the film reveals the raw, personal stakes involved in committing one’s life to social change.

Our 100 Days
Created through a collaboration between Firelight Media and Field of Vision, this collection of seven documentary short films explores threats to U.S. democracy and the stories of its most vulnerable communities in the current highly polarized political climate, all made by filmmakers of color.

The Magnifying Glass
Funded through a grant from Artless Media, these three documentary short films from Louisiana-based filmmakers look at social injustices within the communities that the filmmakers are part of, with a focus on racial justice.

More than Monuments
This program of three short documentary films focuses on the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans. Films include:

Divided City – World Premiere
dir. Andrea B. Scott and Katie Mitchell | 2017 | 30 mins

New Orleanians see history differently in this short documentary that examines the gap between those who see their city’s legacy of white supremacy and those who choose to ignore it. Interviews with members of the Monumental Task Committee and the Sons of Confederate

Silent Parade or the Soul Rebels Vs. Robert E. Lee – North American Premiere
dir. William Cordova | 2017 | 10 mins

The Soul Rebels, one of New Orleans’ most revered brass bands, confronts the legacy of slavery in a powerful rooftop performance across from Robert E. Lee’s statue in this moving short film.

Goodbye Old Glory – World Premiere
dir. Jordan Haro | 2017 | 17 mins

Mid-City’s statue of Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy, serves as the battleground for the argument over the removal of the Confederate monuments. During the course of one night, those who seek to defend their ancestors’ effigies stand, scream, and salute with flags and rifles. Meeting them with emotional response, protesters denounce them as outsiders and racists whose perspective is outmoded. In this contentious stand-off, Louisianans camp out with hot trays of food and lawn chairs, and while they argue over history, passions intensify and violence looms large.

Caribbean Films

Dominican Republic | 2017 | 90 mins
DIR: Laura Amelia Guzman, Israel Cardenas; PRD: Ettore D’Alessandro, Carolina Encarnación; WIR: Ettore D’Alessandro; DP: Andrei Bowden Schwartz; ED: Andrea Kleinman

After doing time in a United States prison, Cisco returns home to the Dominican Republic to find his alcoholic mother is in delicate health conditions. The only way for him to get some money is to fight on the streets. When Nichi, a former Italian boxing promise, sees Cisco during a fight, he decides he is a diamond in the rough to be polished to get out of the debt caused by Nichi’s gambling addiction. During the training process he discovers there is atonement for both of them in the game. They have to make it to the final match and make the dream inside the ring come true.

Serenade for Haiti
USA | 2016 | 110 mins
DIR: Owsley Brown; PRD: Christy McGill; DP: Marcel Cabrera; ED: Gina Leibrecht

For his third feature, director Owsley Brown spins a gorgeous and soulful symphony of a city, Port-au-Prince, sprung to life through the performances and words of the students and teachers at Sainte Trinité Music School. Beginning three years before the devastating earthquake of January 2010 that left 300,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless, music’s saving grace takes on new meaning in the aftermath of the horror that leaves the school in ruins. Serenade for Haiti never wallows in sorrow, though: it’s a visual feast and celebration of a musical and cultural heritage whose fingerprints can be found all over New Orleans. -NS

Play the Devil
Trinidad & Tobago, The Bahamas, USA | 2016 | 89 mins
DIR: Maria Govan; PRD: Maria Govan, Abigail Hadeed, Jonathon Grey, Chris Mortimer; WIR: Maria Govan; DP: James Wall; ED: Thomas A. Kreuger

Dancing deftly between the confusion and possibilities of youth, Play the Devil offers a story of Gregory, a teenager on the cusp of graduation in the town of Paramin, Trinidad. He is torn between meeting the expectations of his family by studying medicine abroad and his passion to study the world’s beauty through photography. Amid this choice and the return of his father—a recovering addict—his artistic spirit catches the attention of an affluent businessman who attempts to foster Greg’s talent until the relationship goes too far. Tender moments intertwine with the lush cliff sides and vistas of Trinidad and Tobago, toppling one into the next until a choice with dire consequences is made during the year’s Carnival festivities.

Coming and Going
Haiti and USA | 34 mins | DIR: Annie Huntington & Clay Thomas

A young translator from a small Haitian city considers his future.  Should he stay in the community where he grew up, or join the exodus abroad in search of other opportunities?

Puerto Rico and USA | 10 mins | DIR: José Fernando Rodriguez

Comprised of Hi8 videos, Adolescencia presents a portrait of a teenage boy in 2002 Puerto Rico who films odd and unusual movie vignettes by himself – and tries to get a girl’s attention in the process.

Days of Wholesome Joy
Cuba | 18 mins | DIR: Claudia Muñiz

Zayda has taken care of her grandma afflicted with dementia for a long time, but on the eve of her birthday Zayda tries to get back her previous life.

Cuban Shorts

DIR: Kira Akerman

Jazz students from New Orleans travel to Cuba on a cultural exchange and collaborate on a parade, celebrating open borders.

Connection (Conectifai)
DIR: Horizoe Garcia

A portrait of a park in Havana where, thanks to public Wi-Fi, a new kind of meeting place has arisen.

DIR: Kadri Koop

Four decades after hijacking a plane to Cuba to avoid charges of killing a state trooper, a former black power militant reflects on his past in a letter to his nine-year-old Cuban son.

DIR: Gabriela Cavanagh

By the train tracks in Havana, Cuba, 87-year-old Manuel brews an aphrodisiac juice called pru.

Forever, Comandante (Hasta Siempre, Comandante)
DIR: Faisal Attrache

Living in the shadow of the revolutionary generation’s unrelenting Cuban ideals, Ernesto, a 14 year old barber, wants to get a tattoo despite his father’s adamant objection to it.

Fighting Cuba’s Boxing Ban
DIR: Ora DeKornfeld

In Cuba, where women are banned from competitive boxing, a thirteen-year-old girl steps into the ring.

Prince of Smoke
DIR: Matthew Gelb

Cuban tobacco farmer and artisanal cigar maker, Hirochi Robaina, follows in his legendary grandfather’s footsteps as he fights to preserve a 171-year old family legacy.

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