About the Film

Famous the world over, jazz funerals have origins shrouded in mystery. Filmed over twenty-two years, City of a Million Dreams explores race relations at a tearing time in American society. Burial traditions train a lens on the unique and resilient culture of New Orleans. City of a Million Dreams draws from the 2018 book of the same title by Jason Berry.

Deb Cotton, an African American and observant Jew, 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 Deb 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.”

Meet The Crew


“Tragedy and comedy, life and death: these are the poles between which the events and people in this film move, with the good and the bad often inseparable.. For anyone who loves the place, this film will enhance your understanding. For anyone curious about New Orleans, it’s a fantastic place to start.”

– Malcolm Jones, The Daily Beast

“Yes, funerals — as in the famous joint expressions of mourning and celebration that feature “second line” dance marches to mark the joy of a soul’s ascent into heaven. As director Berry shows, those ceremonies have extraordinarily complex roots and meanings. What his documentary does, lovingly and in mesmerizingly watchable fashion, is explore the African American culture from which jazz funerals evolved — and how the funerals epitomize the soul and resilience of the Crescent City perpetually endangered by storms, floods, fires, coastal erosion, and diseases such as Yellow Fever.”

– Quin Hillyer, The Washington Examiner

In the News


Heartland International Film Festival

October 7-17, 2021

Information about the City of a Million Dreams in-person screenings coming soon!

Flicker’s Rhode Island Film Festival

Showing City of a Million Dreams virtually August 11th – 18th

See the film here!

Florida Residents:

Watch City of a Million Dreams ​premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival

April 30-May 8, 2021

Coming Soon to a Screen Near You!

Book Release Events for City of a Million Dreams: New Orleans at 300:

March 2021: Melba’s Eat and Read

Saturday January 19, 2019: Politics and Prose in Washington D.C.

Saturday, December 8, 2018: The Historic New Orleans Collection

Friday, December 4, 2018:  Speaker Series at Metairie Park Country Day School

Tuesday Nov. 20, 2018: The Page and Pallet in Fairhope, Alabama

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018: Words and Music Festival at the Renaissance Hotel

Friday, Nov. 16: Lecture, book signing, and documentary footage preview at Friday Nights at NOMA 

Thursday Nov. 15, 2018: 4:15pm at The Words and Music Festival at the Renaissance Hotel in New Orleans, with Dr. Michael White,

followed by a signing at the East Jefferson Public Library

Wednesday Nov.14, 2018: Octavia Books in New Orleans

Tuesday Nov. 13, 2018: Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans

Sunday Nov. 11, 2018: Conundrum Books in St. Francisville

Saturday Nov.10, 2018: The Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge


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