Only if you’ve been living under a rock for some years could you miss the fact that New Orleans has become a “name” in Hollywood. Actually, the city may have something of a bad name in southern California given how much business it has “stolen” from the big movie hub in recent years.
Louisiana’s film industry last year topped California – and everyplace else – in the number of major-studio productions shot here, according to Film L.A., the nonprofit film office of Los Angeles. The 18 movies that were shot substantially in Louisiana included the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, along with several other box-office winners.
Louisiana’s generous tax credit program for the film industry is, of course, the main driver behind the soaring growth of movie-making in this state. But the business has also received a boost from efforts of local groups, at least one of which has been around a lot longer than the tax credits.
The New Orleans Film Society, which today is doing its part to advance the local industry, has been promoting films in the city for nearly 25 years, starting with the launch by locals Don Marshall and John Desplas of a city film festival.
Over the years the New Orleans Film Festival grew and gradually took on more responsibility for enlarging the local movie audience and generating broader interest in movie making.
Today, the festival bills itself as a “discovery” event that spotlights little known and overlooked films. More than 90 percent of the works shown at the festival come from filmmakers who qualify and submit their works directly to the organization.
The remaining 10 percent are curated films that often become some of the industry’s most notable end-of-year releases. Last year’s festival, for example, included screenings of the Oscar-nominated Nebraska and August Osage County well ahead of their scheduled release dates.
The festival also has helped raise the profile of talented individuals. In 1990, Louis C.K., now well known for his cable TV stand-ups and comedy series, showed his short film Caesar’s Salad at the festival and won a prize for Best Short. Another early winner was Todd Phillips (director of The Hangover and Old School), who won his first filmmaking award in New Orleans for a 1993 documentary he made about punk rocker GG Allin.
Jolene Pinder, who relocated from New York four years ago to become executive director of the New Orleans Film Society, says the organization is taking on a bigger role in film promotion.
“What we’re trying to do is create a vibrant cinema culture,” she says. “Our mission is to engage, educate and inspire through the art of film.”
While the fall festival remains a big focus, Pinder says the society in the past half-dozen years has expanded its activities to include the French Film Festival in August, a spring event called “filmOrama” and a children’s festival.
“We also do the outdoor movies,” she says. A fan of showing films in outdoor venues, Pinder says the spring and fall seasons in New Orleans offer prime opportunities to draw people out.
She says the reception in the first year was so strong that the society purchased a 30-foot inflatable screen that allows the movies to travel anywhere. The society showed 18 outdoor movies in the past year at sites ranging from the Bywater neighborhood to the sculpture garden at NOMA to the lawn of the Milton H. Latter Public Library.
Pointing out that local movie theaters can seat only a few hundred people at a time, Pinder says the outdoor films have played to as many as 1,000 people. “It’s a great way to engage a broader audience,” she says.
Part of the society’s work involves getting young people interested in films and potential jobs down the road. In recent years, directors who have come to the fall festival spent time with local high schoolers, talking about the business.
Right now Pinder and others at the society are focused on the October event. The New Orleans Film Festival will show about 225 movies, and mingling in the crowds will be some 300 directors, producers and other industry people evaluating reactions to their films, networking and scouting opportunities.
The society helps ensure a good industry following by doing what New Orleans does best. “We really try to show them a good time,” Pinder says. She ticks off a schedule of activities that includes nightly themed parties and a brunch at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World.
In cooperation with local hotels, the society also offers free room nights to key people associated with the films.
Last year the New Orleans Film Festival drew some 22,000 attendees, and Pinder is confident the number will top 25,000 this year.
Noting that New Orleans has a deep association with novelists, playwrights and others who have found their storytelling muse in the city Pinder says, there’s no reason why moviemakers can’t do the same. “Film is one of our great methods of storytelling,” she says. “It’s an amazing vehicle for sharing stories.”
New Orleans Film Festival
Oct. 16-23, 2014
The festival operates from the Contemporary Arts Center and presents screenings at sites around the city, including Canal Place, and the Prytania, Civic and Joy theaters.
Last year, the festival offered a total of $80,000 in cash and prizes to winners of Jury Awards and Audience Awards.
Actor John Goodman has become an industry “face of the festival,” and the STARZ Network has signed on as a marquis sponsor.