February 16, 2015

'The Whole Gritty City' ~ NOLA Black History

I am not a native New Orleanian but I was raised loving it passed to me by my beloved maternal grandmother. She, being my heart and soul, was born there but raised in Chicago. True to the nature of New Orleans, it binds you for life. She always spoke of NOLA and visited often, very careful to instill all of its nuances in us. My first visit to New Orleans sealed the deal. It is my love for life. 

New Orleans is the kind of place where all of its descendants jell. One of my buddies is native. She is infectious and has a gathering of New Orleans loves, native, non, newly hooked. One of the gang posted that 'The Gritty City' would be showing in Chicago right before many were heading down for Mardi Gras. We all decided to go to get pumped up!

This documentary did not disappoint. 

New Orleans has grit and darkness and an unwavering will to survive ... A phoenix in the gulf of Mexico. 

After attending the screening, I tweeted how much I enjoyed what I saw.

Mr. Richard Barber, the Director and Producer immediately reached out. I suspect, as a NOLA lover, he and I will be fast friends!

Richard's bio on 'The Gritty City' website reveals: has been recognized for his work as a producer and editor for television with Peabody, Emmy and Christopher awards, including the 2002 CBS documentary “9/11”. He has worked at CBS News for “Street Stories”, “48 Hours”, “Live to Tell”, "Brooklyn DA" and “Sunday Morning”. Previously he edited television series and independent documentaries for PBS, National Geographic and Lifetime

here is the link: http://thewholegrittycity.com/the-filmmakers

If this powerful story comes to your part of the world, definitely take a look!

Richard was kind enough to answer a few questions:

What is the motivation behind sharing the story of the struggles with New Orleans and the marching bands and their legacy? How did you become interested in Nola?

Richard: My day job is as a producer/editor at CBS News 48 Hours, and in 2007 I worked on a broadcast about post-Katrina murders in New Orleans. Part of the focus was on the murder of a young musician named Dinerral Shavers (snare drummer in The Hot 8 Brass Band). He was also a substitute teacher at one of the first public high schools that opened back up after the storm He decided the best thing he could do for the kids there was -against long odds - start the school's first marching band. He was murdered a week before the instruments arrived. When I watched interviews with his band students, they were so heartfelt talking about their lives and about how much the band and Mr. Shavers meant to them. I'd already been tuned into the power of New Orleans music, but this was an aspect of it that was new to me. So I went down to see what was happening to this band under its new director. I took on a collaborator, Andre Lambertson, who shot most of the footage, and we discovered that powerful things were going on in band rooms all over New Orleans. Not just musically. Children were literally being saved.

What are some of your favorite things about New Orleans?

Richard: As in other US cities, the African American community in New Orleans is in many ways disenfranchised - they are dealing daily with tremendous struggles, with poverty, violence, problems with the criminal justice system, with the schools. Yet there is also an immense strength and pride in the community that flows from a deeply-rooted culture. It's not just the music, but the music is pervasive and emblematic of so much else. As David Simon said it's the city's great gift to America. And along with the strength and pride is a generosity and a tolerance. You want to watch the second line parade? You want to join in? Fine. Even if you, as an outsider, don't completely get it, if you appreciate it, that's great. Maybe you'll learn something. 

What would you like to see 'The Gritty City' to bring to its audience.

Richard: For some audiences the film is an immersion into an unfamiliar world. My hope is that they'll see the complex, quirky humanity, the talent and ambition of these kids, and the amazing dedication of the band directors that make such a difference in these kids' lives. That they will listen to them and  empathize with the struggles they face, and celebrate their successes. For other audiences, my hope is that they will see a truer, more sympathetic and fully rounded picture of a world they know than they're used to seeing on the screen. 

It's easy for some people to assume that the kids they applaud marching in a Mardi Gra parade are the good kids, and the kids they see in perp walks on the news are the bad kids. These are all the same kids. The kids in the bands have found a family, have found someone to pay attention to them, teach them how to express themselves, to guide them in a positive direction. A lot of other kids have to rely on mentors who take them in a different direction. 

Any other tidbits to share?

Richard: We were fortunate to have the film broadcast nationally a year ago as a 2-hour 48 Hours Presents hosted by Wynton Marsalis. It reached a wide and diverse audience as far as documentaries go, and got some nice reviews and wonderful viewer responses. Now it's finding its way to audiences in various ways. On our website you can find out how to buy DVDs for individuals and for schools. You can also find out how to promote a theatrical screening in your community. And we're working with a nonprofit called Active Voice to start doing community screenings starting this spring.

To learn more, visit The Whole Gritty City website. 

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