Here at Carousel, we love verite films. The best ones often start out as something else. “Hoop Dreams” started off as a 30-minute PBS film about a neighborhood basketball court. The documentary “9/11,” by two French filmmakers, started off as a rites-of-passage film about an apprentice fireman in Manhattan. When his engine company checked out a gas leak just blocks from the World Trade Center towers on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001, the story dramatically changed.
The 9/11 documentary may not seem like the best example, you may be thinking, because events gave the filmmakers no choice other than to follow the tragedy. But if you’re a filmmaker with good instincts, you almost always feel compelled to follow the real story, even when you are not faced with such an extreme situation. A case in point is the experience of the team who made “Getting Back to Abnormal,” a documentary that aired on POV last summer and was the Official Selection at both the SXSW and Hot Springs Documentary Film Festivals in 2013. The film will be re-broadcast Monday evening on the World Channel, as part of their coverage of the 10th anniversary of Katrina. "Getting Back to Abnormal" is delightful, insightful, poignant, and surprising. For our Friday Our Gang series about projects outside our own company, one of the film’s directors, Louis Alvarez, explained how the film shifted its course:
“We knew at the outset of our film that too many post-Katrina documentaries settled for presenting overly simplistic narratives that didn’t recognize the complexity that has always been part of the DNA of New Orleans. Then, we met Stacy Head, the polarizing New Orleans white city councilperson at the heart of our film, and we knew we’d landed documentary gold. Stacy was candid, funny, and unedited—a rare thing in politics these days. Four years after Katrina, she needed to win the black vote to be re-elected. But her record of blunt racial talk seemed to be dooming her chances. What we didn’t realize was that Stacy came along with someone even more compelling: her associate Barbara Lacen Keller, a street-smart and savvy African American neighborhood operative who was Stacy’s liaison to her black constituents. If Stacy was gold, Barbara was platinum: a force of nature who drew in everyone she met. Barbara acted like the film was really about her, and it sort of became that! She had amazing documentary instincts. The last time we saw her, she was getting ready to go to a Carnival ball and invited us to film her preparations. At the last minute, without any advance warning, she gestured to the shadows outside her house, and two gorgeous six-foot tall men in full drag emerged to escort her to the party. It was an only-in-New-Orleans moment that reminded us why we loved the place. “
For three of its four producers, “Getting Back to Abnormal” was a home-coming. Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, and Paul Stekler first collaborated in 1992 to make “Louisiana Boys, Raised on Politics.” “For us,” Louis says, “the city will always exert its power and mystery over our hearts and minds.” The trio joined forces with Peter Odabashian to make their most recent New Orleans film.
If you haven’t seen “Getting Back to Abnormal,” you can download it or purchase a dvd on the film’s website, or you can tune into the World Channel on the evening of Monday, August 24th. We’re not going to spoil the story, but there’s a great reveal in the film that you won’t see coming.
Photo credits: The photo of Barbara Lacen Keller, at top, courtesy of Andrew Kolker. The photo of the filmmakers, at bottom, courtesy of Glen PItre.