It took me a while to really grasp what filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross wanted to show me with their new documentary Tchoupitulas. I went into most of the screenings for Flyover Film Festival without any knowledge as to what I would see, and it took me a good ten minutes to even recognize that the film was set in New Orleans. Then, it took me another ten minutes of watching to realize that the Ross Brothers meant Tchoupitulas as a portrait of New Orleans through the three young boys they followed. Luckily, the main focus on the young, willful William kept my attention long enough to see the beauty in Tchoupitulas. Though it sagged in the middle, on top of starting off opaque, the film did ultimately tell a rousing and loving story about a night in New Orleans.
I don’t feel too bombastic in called this something of an epic poem, it has every aspect of a journey taken. The filmmakers followed three boys ranging from about 7 or 8 years old, to 14 and just captured them taking the ferry from Algiers into the city proper, and left them to roam around. Luckily, for the filmmakers at least, the boys stay out so late that they miss the returning ferry, and so have to stay on the wrong side of the Mississippi river until the morning. Wild and curious, they take it largely as an opportunity to explore different, after-hours moments and places around the French Quarter. Through the boys eyes or the filmmakers direction, a picture is painted that is so vibrant, alive, and thoughtful. It’s like cinematic pointillism, through multiple different pieces of the city, a greater, complex image is formed. William, the youngest, works wonders as a narrator for the bright, shiny dreams that the night inspires.
The boys make for an interesting commentary. Left on the wrong side of the river, it is unclear whether their parents willfully won’t pick them up or whether just trust the filmmakers to take care of them. Regardless, the three of them, and a dog, make for a sweet group, playful and chiding. They show true, endearing youth among all the scandalous New Orleans landscape, they are mischievous while good-natured, they are curious while careful. Unfortunately, once the night stretches out and they get tired and slow, so does the film. It shows well the quiet of a New Orleans night after the bars have closed; it just makes the interest wane.
During the after-show question and answer time, I brought the comparison between the film Detropia, shown earlier in this Festival, and Tchoupitoulas. I asked them about the lack of mentioning Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing problems the city faces in its continued aftermath. Firmly they said they did not want to portray any part of that, as it is a one-dimensional way of understanding New Orleans. I agree completely, that this was the far better way to explore a city and the people that inhabit it.
The Ross Brothers show a real affection for the music and the movement of the city, and they clearly wanted to display that affection through young eyes. They delivered this wonder, enormous and not really understood, through their confident direction. It is a shame that it took so long to grasp what they were trying to give me, but in the end I received all the romanticism and love they hoped to deliver.