The New Orleans Film Festival is known for showing Oscar-qualifying films that recognize many identities and share influential stories. I was required to volunteer with them as part of Tulane’s service learning component in my Global Communications & Policy class. I really would not have had any clue this festival was happening without this class, which is unfortunate. I had to watch three films to report on for class. The ones I chose all centered around social justice and changemakers in the United States, which I thought was relevant to our current political climate.
While many of my shifts were to do odd jobs around the office, the two most interesting ones were at the festival itself. The first shift was at The Broad Theater, where I helped usher people into see the film. The other volunteers and I handed out ballots (to rate the movies), took note of how many people went into the theater, and answered any questions the viewers had. The most interesting part was seeing the films. This day, I saw “Same God,” a film about the story of professor Larycia Hawkins and how she defines god and religion. It was incredibly thought-provoking; the film questions if Christians and Muslims worship the same god. It is an extremely controversial topic. Afterwards, the filmmakers and Hawkins herself answered questions in a forum that I was lucky enough to attend. The best part was hearing how the film was made and Hawkins’ experience throughout the making of the film (she faced a lot of criticism and lost her job). The second shift I did was at the Advocate in the French Quarter, where I was doing the same type of work. Again, the coolest part was that the filmmaker was answering questions! This time the film was “Mississippi Madam,” a film about Nellie Jackson, handler of prostitutes in Mississippi.
The other two films I saw for class were “Blowing Up” and “Guilty Until Proven Guilty.” In “Blowing Up,” Counselor Hook and Judge Serita address the social issue of prostitution in Queens, New York through understanding and fair court practices. The most impactful film I saw was “Guilty Until Proven Guilty” which reveals the inequality of the New Orleans prison system against young black men. These films made me realize how much of a bubble a lot of us are stuck in. Especially at Tulane, it is easy to block out outside problems and instead focus on our little campus. Things happening in our own city of New Orleans oftentimes represents a bigger national issue that we need to be aware of.
I loved the experience of volunteering with the New Orleans Film Festival because not only did it allow me to see the greater culture of New Orleans, I also met some really interesting people and got to see how the film industry worked. I strongly urge anyone (student, tourist, etc.) in the city during the festival in mid-October to go see at least one film—it will absolutely change your perspective on the city.
COVER PHOTO: New Orleans Film Society