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Your guide to hundreds of movies at the 30th New Orleans Film Festival

With more than 200 movies to pick from, there are tough choices to be made. An eight-day festival with so much quality programming means there’s a lot of room for FOMO.

by Matt Haines | October 16, 2019

With more than 200 movies to pick from, there are tough choices to be made. An eight-day festival with so much quality programming means there’s a lot of room for FOMO. So I turned to programming managers Kate Mason and Jon Kieran, for their opinions on what you should check out at the very special 30th Annual New Orleans Film Festival.

We’ll take a look at their picks, and then I’ll finish up with your options for tickets!

Interested in the blockbusters?

Over the last decade, NOFF has showcased more than 60 Academy Award-nominated films ahead of their nominations. That includes opening the festival with best picture winners three times: “The Artist” in 2011; “12 Years a Slave” in 2013; and “Greenbook” last year.

Kieran thinks they may have another in this year’s opening night movie, “Marriage Story.”

“We’ve landed a hard-hitting drama,” he said, “featuring two actors in Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver at the top of their craft. I think it’s sure to make shortlists come awards season!” The movie is a compassionate portrayal of a family staying together despite the breaking up of a marriage. Tickets for opening night films tend to sell out, and — at $40 per ticket — prices reflect that. But the atmosphere is electric at the Orpheum Theatre, where you can see the film on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Other picks on Kieran’s shortlist include “Waves” (October 18; 6:30 p.m.; $25), which navigates the the epic and emotional journey of a suburban African American family during intense loss; as well as “The Report” (October 23; 8:30 p.m.; $20) — another early Oscar contender featuring Adam Driver, this time as an idealistic Senate staffer leading an investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program.

Mason strongly recommends “Burning Cane” (October 19; 8 p.m; $25), which is a major movie homecoming moment for our city. “Director and NOCCA graduate Philip Youmans was only 19 years old when he won the Best U.S. Narrative Feature award for this film at Tribeca a few months ago,” she explains. “Expect a New Orleans throwdown at the Orpheum for this screening that takes a hard look at masculinity in the deep south. I expect an audience that will be thrilled to celebrate one of their own.”


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@BurningCaneFilm, directed by 19-year-old @nocca.nola alum @phillipmyoumans, will Centerpice #NOFF2019. The film, starring #WendellPierce, and executive produced by #BenhZeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) is set amongst the cane fields of rural #Louisiana, where a deeply religious woman struggles to reconcile her convictions of faith with the love she has for her alcoholic son and troubled preacher. With Burning Cane, #PhillipYoumans became the youngest and the first African-American director to win the Founder’s Award for Best Narrative Feature at the @Tribeca Film Festival. “Would be a noteworthy debut from a director twice Youmans’ age.” noted John DeFore of @hollywoodreporter. #NOFF2019 All-Access and Weekender Passes are on Early-Bird Sale until August 29th! Get your pass today to save $$. Link in the bio. Individual tickets will be available for pass holders and our members on September 23rd, and for the public on September 30th. Check for more info.

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Perhaps You Prefer a Documentary?

The subjects approached by the documentaries in the film festival are a smattering of extraordinary stories from every corner of our country and world; and that’s a huge testament to our fest organizers’ commitment to diversity in filmmakers when choosing which movies to feature.

In this category, Mason’s No. 1 pick is “Why Can’t I Be Me? Around You” (October 21 at 8:30 p.m. or October 23 at 11 a.m.; $13), about a transwoman who is a brilliant mechanic and inventor, working on her own drag racing vehicle and copper motorcycle. “I think documentary lovers will get a lot out of this film that leans quirky, but never loses its substance,” said Mason. “Subject Rusty Tidenberg exhibits remarkable vulnerability in this investigation of queerness on the fringes of Americana and I suspect both laughs and tears will fill the theater.”

She also suggests “Gracefully” (October 20; 1:45 p.m.; $13), the story of an 80-year-old Iranian cow farmer who has performed a traditional dance in the guise of a woman almost his entire life (which spanned consequential cultural differences on both sides of the Iranian Revolution). Finally, Mason recommends “Exodus” (October 19; 1:30 p.m.; free screening), the story of hundreds of thousands of Afghan immigrants attempting to return home from Iran. The film may cause viewers to draw comparisons to our own immigration debate.

Looking for a Laugh?

Maybe you’re looking for something that’ll crack you up? In that case, Kieran’s top suggestion is “Straight Up” (October 19; 11 a.m.; free screening), the tale of Todd as he tries to find happiness while navigating romance, sexuality and being OCD. “I loved it for its snappy dialogue that had a West Wing or Gilmore Girls kind of feel,” Kieran said. “It takes advantage of some gorgeous Los Angeles locations while putting forward a sly, subversive theme about navigating your own sexuality.”

For more laughs, he also suggests attending the Late Night Shorts (October 19 at 9:15 p.m. or October 22 at 9 p.m.; $13). The showcase features a dozen short films ranging from two minutes to 17 minutes in length. The subject matter is all over the map, including the adventure of a young jaguar when he escapes from the zoo, and the struggles of a recently engaged couple competing for $10,000 on a public access gameshow. And for something completely different, Kieran mentioned “Caffeinated / Underrated: A High-Pressure, Low-Stakes Game Show” (October 20; 8:30 p.m.; free entry). You can join a raucous audience that will cheer and jeer as filmmakers take turns arguing which movie is the World’s Greatest Underrated Film of All-Time!

Film Festival on a Budget

Fest organizers are determined to remove as many barriers as possible to enjoying the New Orleans Film Festival. There are free Filmmaker Forum Panels, special events, and a handful of Virtual Reality, Room-Scale VR and Microcinema presentations free of charge! Also, thanks to The Helis Foundation, a dozen free, quality films are available for the public to enjoy.


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Over 20,000 attendees, 400 film-makers and 250+ films will be showcased throughout the week-long event in October. It is also one of the few film festivals in the country which features three Oscar qualifying categories. #Repost @onemoresponsor ・・・ New Orleans Film Festival is one of the top 25 film festivals in the world! This Oscar qualifying event selects and curates a week long celebration of film production with a diverse culture that is unforgettable!! . . Discover how joining One More Sponsor at New Orleans Film Festival in October could benefit your brand. (Link in profile). . . #Sponsor #OneMoreSponsor #Sponsorship #Partnership #Brand #Events #EventProfs #Film #FilmMaker #FilmProduction #Documentary #ArtsAndCulture #Arts #Music #Production #NewOrleans #NOFF #NOFS #NOLA @neworleansfilmsociety

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Mason’s top pick of the group is “Born Into It: Inheritance and Changing Traditions” (October 18 at 2 p.m. or October 23 at 11 a.m.; free screening), a program of short films that will stir up emotions in any viewer who can relate to a desire to honor their ancestry and culture while still operating in the modern world. “Stories range from heartbreaking to heartwarming,” said Mason, “but each one takes you into another world.” She encourages viewers to stick around for the last film, Simple Things, for a refreshing documentary-meets-romantic-comedy.

A list of all free screenings can be found here.

Who Watches Short-Shorts?

Going to a “Shorts” screening means enjoying a showcase of five to 10 films, approximately two to 15 minutes in length. These shorter-length movies are typically grouped by some overarching theme, and — because the New Orleans Film Festival is an Oscar-qualifying competition in three shorts categories — the fest attracts some of the most compelling pieces being created!

“Observe & Control” (October 20 at 1:30 p.m. or October 23 at 11 a.m.; $13) features six films considering those who attempt to control others, as well as the things that control us. Films include the story of 10 aliens using a host body to learn to become men, as well as a film crew pushing the boundaries of consent during a rehearsal.

“Programming Narrative Shorts is a wild process that involves picking three dozen needles out of a haystack of almost 3,000 submissions,” explains Kieran. “When the ingredients are just right, the result is a perfect diamond of a program like this one.”

He also recommends “Rude Imaginings” (October 19th at noon or October 23 at 1:15 p.m.; free screening), which features films that push the boundaries of imagination, and “Fashion Conscious Shorts” (October 18 at 7:15 p.m. or October 21 at 11 a.m.; $13) with movies that grapple with identity.

For Those Looking to Learn Something

Film festivals are an opportunity to be entertained, but they’re also a chance to learn. Mason’s number one pick in this category is Alex Glustrom’s new film, “Mossville: When Great Trees Fall” (October 19; 4:30 p.m.; $13), which blends the personal with the political by telling the story of Louisiana native Stacey Ryan as he stands up to the petrochemical companies attempting to take his home.


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“NOFF veteran audiences will remember Glustrom’s powerful Big Charity, and they won’t be disappointed by his new documentary,” Mason says. “Every Louisiana resident deserves to know the truth of Mossville and I think they’ll feel empowered by the resistance and courage of its subjects.”

Mason also recommends checking out the full list of Filmmaker Forums, a mix of panels, roundtables and special events. She is looking forward to the White Walls panel (October 19; noon; free entry), which examines the overlap between art films and film-art; “The Music That Makes the Movies” (October 19; 7 p.m.; free entry), a panel of experts providing a beginner’s guide to the work at the crossroads of music and movies; and “Chat with the Black List” (October 18; 2:30 p.m.; free entry), featuring an organization that has thrown light on thousands of important scripts that might have otherwise been passed over.

Are You Cutting Edge?

NOFF is the perfect opportunity to push your limits and try something a little more avant garde. Kieran encourages us to spend some time at Cinema Reset (click link for available hours). “If you’re not hip to VR/AR/MR/XR and all the other always-evolving platforms for new cinema and video art, this is a great way to dive in,” he explains. “We’re bringing a whole mini-festival of really innovative work to town, and it’s all free and available every single day of the fest!” This is your opportunity to try out leading technologies in the film industry.’’


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He also recommends the Experimental Shorts (October 20 at 9 p.m. or October 23 at 8:45 p.m. $13), a series of short works that are sure to push your understanding of what film can be, as well as “The World is Full of Secrets” (October 19 at 7:30 p.m.) — a film that centers on a group of teenage girls telling morbid stories around a campfire. If you like the gothic, the spooky and the sinister, done in a way that manages to mash the artful and the slasher, then this is a film worth checking out.

Where’s the Party?

One of the reasons NOFF gets such rave reviews is because of the experience it provides fest-goers outside of the theater. New Orleans is known for throwing a party, and it’s film fest fest does not disappoint!

Mason’s number one pick is the Opening Night Party (October 16, 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.; open to All-Access Passholders), which will feature a second line from the Opening Night screening of “Marriage Story” to classic Gallier Hall, plus complimentary wine, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, DJs, bands and dancing.

She’s also looking forward to the It’s Lit Party (October 19, 10 p.m. – 2 a.m.; open to All Access, Weekender, and Student Pass holders), which will celebrate our homegrown Tribeca-winning filmmaker, Philip Youmans, with our also-homegrown hip hop and bounce beats. The party is taking place in the perfect venue — an old-school gymnasium — complete with signature cocktails, and light displays galore.


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If it’s great food and wine you’re after, Mason thinks you should check out the Big Easy Does It Party (October 18, 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.; open to All Access and Weekender) on the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute’s rooftop terrace. There’ll be cocktails, wine from the Chloe Wine Collection, live music, and food from some of the city’s best restaurants.

Tickets! Get Your Tickets!

I’ve listed ticket prices along with all the screenings, so buying individual admission for each film is certainly possible by clicking on the movie links. (Do it fast, though, the big films sell out!) There are, however, other options.

The All-Access Pass costs $340, but it is your entryway into everything the festival has to offer including all screenings, priority lines, special presentations, receptions and parties. It will also get you into the XRM Media VIP Lounge at the New Orleans Advocate. For $195, the Weekender Pass gives you the same perks as the All Access Pass, but just for Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival.

The Student Pass — which you can receive by emailing a copy of your valid student ID. to [email protected] — gets you access to all film screenings for just $60, as well as the Saturday night It’s Lit Party, and the Six Film Pass costs $65 and gives you access to six films of your choice (not including the Opening and Closing Night films).


Matt Haines

Matt Haines

Matt Haines lives in New Orleans and writes about all the cool stuff.
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