‘City Of A Million Dreams’ Documentary Will Screen At The Broadside In Advance Of Film Festival

The New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) will present an advance screening the documentary City of a Million Dreams, directed by Jason Berry, on Wednesday, October 20, 7 p.m. at The Broadside. The screening will be free for NOFS members and pass holders for the 2021 New Orleans Film Festival, which gets underway on November 5.

With extensive footage of of jazz funerals and Sunday second-line parades filmed over a twenty-five year span, along withriveting reenactments of the burial dances of enslaved Africans, City of a Million Dreams shows the cultural memory of Black New Orleans and rituals of resilience as never before. Berry published a book with the same title in 2018 upon the tricentennial of New Orleans’ founding.

The film includes Deb Cotton, an African American and observant Jew, who leaves “hard-hearted Hollywood” for New Orleans and becomes a chronicler of the parading clubs spawned by 19th-century burial societies. Her zeal for the city grows as she becomes a blogger for Gambit Weekly, adopting the handle “Big Red Cotton.” As Cotton explores her adopted culture, Dr. Michael White, a prolific clarinetist and New Orleans native, plays “the widow’s wail” on his clarinet, a cry of lamentation in the funeral marches. White’s transcendent music also includes joyous peals for the soul’s cutting-loose, which happens when the band leaves the cemetery, followed by dancers in what New Orleanians call “the second line.” Risen in the ranks of brass bands, White, too, is on a journey of self-discovery, seeking clues about his ancestor who played at the dawn of jazz. White says of jazz funerals: “For someone dealing with American racism and trying to figure out your place in this life…you can be transformed into another world that really sets you free.”

Funerals unfold as caravans of memory, shaping White’s quest and Cotton’s epiphanies. New Orleans burial customs evolve as people of different tongues and colors reach the city, surviving floods, fires, war, political violence, civil rights struggles and hurricanes. The film follows the French-colonial town’s evolution with a stunning recreation of African burial choreographies by enslaved people, honoring ancestral memory on a field called Congo Square. The resistance drama of danced memory carries across time, gathering force as as black men march as Mardi Gras Indians in one the film’s most powerful funeral sequences.

Tickets available to purchase at this link. The film will also be available to stream online following the kickoff event.

“We look forward to gathering with the New Orleans film community before the New Orleans Film Festival 2021 to enjoy the Louisiana premiere of City of a Million Dreams, a film 22 years in the making,” said Fallon Young, executive director of the New Orleans Film Festival.

The 32nd annual New Orleans Film Festival takes place November 5 to 14 at venues across the city as well as a virtual cinema accessible globally between November 5 and 21.The festival announced all 170 films in its 2021 competition lineup plus the Opening Weekend Gala Screening of C’mon C’mon with more programming announcements, including Spotlight Films and Filmmaker Conference to be announced in the coming days.

The festival also announced a new screening venue, AMC Elmwood Palace 20 at 1200 Elmwood Park Blvd. in Harahan. The change comes as the festival learns long-time festival venue, The Prytania Theatre, will remain closed in order to make repairs following Hurricane Ida. The Prytania anticipates reopening some time in November 2021. Festival screenings will also be held at The Broad Theater and the adjacent Broadside, located at 636 and 600 N. Broad St. in New Orleans.