Rick Delaup, Filmmaker
“The great thing about living and working in New Orleans is that the city is so rich with subject matter, for any artist,” says Rick Delaup, a native of New Orleans who studied film at Chicago’s Columbia College but returned to the Crescent City to produce documentary videos. “It’s a visually exciting city. In my opinion, it’s a documentary filmmaker’s dream. We have the most amazing characters here, and a lot of fascinating stories.”
Delaup has literally made a career out of chronicling the city’s cast of offbeat characters and their equally colorful stories. His website, EccentricNewOrleans.com, describes him as “an independent producer on a mission to tell the true, uncensored stories of real New Orleans people,” which he has accomplished artfully with his critically-acclaimed documentary on French Quarter eccentric Ruthie Moulon, Ruthie The Duck Girl (1999), and infomercial-style video on Ninth Ward musician, inventor and hipster icon Mr. Quintron, The Drum Buddy Show (2001). His current project, Evangeline the Oyster Girl & Other Tales of Burlesque, will tell the stories of Bourbon Street exotic dancers from the late 1940s through the early ‘60s. “Unfortunately, most of the works that reach the largest audiences, via television, are made by out-of-towners who always want to cover the same topics over and over. There is much more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras, jazz, R&B, food, and French Quarter architecture,” Delaup says.
Despite his success, Delaup has a reputation for being a bit of a cynic when it comes to the New Orleans indie film scene. And he’s entitled to it after riding the ramparts of a not-quite-on-the-map film town like New Orleans for a decade and a half. Most of his criticisms revolve around what he perceives as a lack of financial support for film and video artists living and working in New Orleans from the city and state funding agencies. He says local filmmakers don’t enjoy the same level of patronage as their peers in other local media (i.e. music and visual arts), or get the same kind of attention as out-of-town filmmakers/producers working on local subject matter.
“All the grants [for filmmaking] are drying up. The New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) [the oldest non-profit media arts center in the southeastern U.S., which recently folded after thirty-two years due to lack of funding] has closed their doors. There are no decent venues to screen works, the local cable access station has received lots of criticism—for not being supportive—of local producers, and the Louisiana Division of the Arts has severely cut funding to artists, yet can come up with one million [dollars] for the PBS corporate sponsored Ken Burns Jazz series, which was criticized by many as glossing over New Orleans. And local Louisiana filmmakers aren’t even thrown a bone.”
His is certainly an extreme point of view, but one that does put things into perspective. “Unfortunately, many of the talented filmmakers from New Orleans had to move away to achieve success. While, for many who have remained, you’re only good for a film or two before you are forced to enter the 9-5 workplace. I have not thought about leaving New Orleans until fairly recently. I guess I’ll just see how things go.”
For more info on Rick Delaup, see
Zeitgeist: The Little Venue That Could
Rene Broussard, the founder and director of New Orleans’ long-
running, nonprofit, alternative media arts venue Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, and a filmmaker himself, sits somewhere in the middle of the opinion spectrum when it comes to talking about the New Orleans independent film scene. Though he’s seen a lot in his seventeen years with Zeitgeist, he remains positive and determined, espousing a silver lining to Delaup’s dark cloud.
“I don’t know that there’s a multitude of resources for [filmmakers] who don’t have their own systems, but now you can get a system so cheaply: editing systems, mini DV cameras, with all the money you save by living here in New Orleans on rent and utilities, you can easily buy your own system. It’s a very affordable place to work. And there is a sense of community—many talented interesting artists working here in town.”
As far as venues go, while there are other bigger and better (read: more comfortable, as Zeitgeist is often criticized for its plastic chairs) options for viewing independent cinema in New Orleans (first-run art-house theaters like the downtown, four-screen, Landmark affiliate, Canal Place, and the single-screen Prytania Theater), none have been more consistently committed to showcasing alternative and independent media and trying to foster a community around it than Zeitgeist.
Since 1987 Zeitgeist has persevered, championing underground, obscure, and often controversial film, video, music, visual, and performance art in a succession of ever-improving locations; most notably the much-beloved, now-defunct second-run drafthouse theater, Movie Pitchers. Though now settled in at Barrister’s Art Gallery in Center City, the all-volunteer Zeitgeist continues to struggle financially, in part due to a commitment years ago to total independence, meaning no reliance on grants or public funds of any kind.
“We decided we would try to sink or swim from our ability to generate revenue from our programming, concessions, and private donations,” Broussard says, admitting Zeitgeist didn’t want to be beholden to the moral or aesthetic dictates of arts funding agencies. “It’s a day to day struggle to keep the place open. But creatively, we’re doing incredible things with very little money.”
Zeitgeist’s alliance with the national DVD-first run film club Film Movement is one of those things. Film Movement helps create access to outstanding independent films that most likely will not receive wide release, by providing members with the DVD of the film in advance of its opening in associated theaters—like Zeitgeist. “It’s like a Book of the Month club for independent film,” Broussard explains. “It’s not doing as well as I would like, in terms of attendance, but that’s the same with ninety-nine percent of what happens at Zeitgeist. After seventeen years in this town I still do not know the secret to getting an audience. It’s so fickle.”
“Is there an indie media ‘scene’ in New Orleans? Yes. Is it cohesive? No. Or a ‘community’ in the real sense of the word? We’re trying. But I do think there is hope on the horizon.”
Jeremy Campbell, Ten 18 Films & Flicker: Making Things Happen
Jeremy Campbell is much more optimistic about the state of affairs in New Orleans. “I’d really say New Orleans is just thirsty for independent film. And there are a lot of people here doing experimental films and music videos and short interesting narrative type work. A lot of it is more on the amateur end of things, but it’s people who really want to be better and are working to move in that direction.”
A filmmaker as well, Campbell moved to New Orleans about three years ago, interested, like Delaup, in the eccentric personalities and unique spirit of New Orleans. Since then, he has produced four critically lauded documentaries about New Orleans under the Ten 18 Films name, including Second Line Sunday and New Orleans Jazz Funeral. Don’t Worry Honey, I Live Here and Sorry Mom, I’m A Drunk are both about Mardi Gras from a locals’ perspective.
About a year and a half ago, frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of appropriate venues for local filmmakers to screen their works, he started a New Orleans chapter of the nationwide Flicker network, which seeks to promote local film shorts while also screening works from other chapters. The Flicker Underground Film Festival, as Campbell bills the quarterly event at roving bar and club venues around town, functions as a distribution system that helps underground filmmakers gain a wider audience, while providing the local film-watching community with an alternative atmosphere to view the often cutting-edge material—which has been a big hit in a party town like New Orleans.
“The first time I would have been happy if three dozen people showed up. Now we’re on our sixth show and every time we’ve had 200-plus people, so I’ve been thrilled with the response,” Campbell says. “It may be an optimistic point of view, but, there’s so much artistic talent in this city, it should be a film hub as much as it is a music hub and visual art hub. I guess it depends on what you want to achieve here, as a filmmaker. If you’re interested in getting a job on a big budget film and being part of a narrative Hollywood feature, then that’s more difficult. But New Orleans is wide open if you are prepared to make your own way, finance your own film, basically self-produce. Then it is a good place to be. And I see a lot of potential in the city right now.”