Celebrating its 28th edition, the annual New Orleans Film Festival this year features a lineup of more than 230 films and a theme that stresses diversity, says artistic director Clint Bowie.
“We have a new mission statement with an emphasis on amplifying diverse voices and story- tellers from all different backgrounds,” Bowie says. “Out of that lineup, more than 53% are from female directors and 45% from directors of color, so it’s probably the most diverse program we’ve ever created.”
The festival will take place in The Big Easy on Oct. 11-19.
After receiving a record number of nearly 5,000 entries from 109 different countries — an increase of more than 20% over last year — the festival is welcoming over 400 filmmakers. Programmers have curated a slate with Louisiana-made films representing 29% of the lineup.
Anchoring the diverse program is the centerpiece movie, the Louisiana-shot, period epic “Mudbound,” pictured above, which premiered at Sundance and was acquired by Netflix.
“It was perfect for us as it’s both local — and we love any opportunity to showcase a local production — and it ties into this year’s theme of diversity,” Bowie says.
Additionally, “Mudbound” is directed and co-written by a woman who is also black, Dee Rees (“Pariah,” “Bessie”), with a lot of women in the crew, including the DP and editor, and it deals with timely issues of racial tension.
“Mudbound” also has a stellar cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, and New Orleans native Jason Mitchell.
Mitchell will be presented with a Trailblazer Award for his work in “Mudbound” and such films as “Straight Outta Compton.”
Continuing its diversity theme, New Orleans is showcasing seven directorial teams of documentary filmmakers of color who, with support from Firelight Media and Field of Vision, created seven shorts collectively referred to as “Our 100 Days” that document the experiences of marginalized Americans during the first 100 days of the Trump administration.
A grant of $20,000 will be awarded to a documentary filmmaker in conjunction with the Tribeca Film Institute’s IF/Then pitch program for documentary short films.
This will also mark the fourth year of the festival’s Emerging Voices mentorship program for filmmakers of color, with mentors such as Moira Griffin from Fox and Christine Davila from Stage 13/Warner Bros. taking part.
Echoing a growing trend among film festivals, the event is also folding television into this year’s program. “A first for us,” says Bowie. “As more and more filmmakers are doing TV these days, and there’s so much rich content there now, it just makes sense to acknowledge that and include it.”
TV programming at the fest will include a screening of teaser content from the second season of TBS’ “Search Party,” with co-creators Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss on hand for a special conversation, and Fox’s “Atlanta,” as well as original new episodic work, including the “Manic” pilot directed by Kate Marks and produced through the HBO Access program.
“We’re very excited about this addition, and I think it will continue to be a part of what we do,” Bowie says.
The New Orleans Film Festival is bookended by two high-profile films. It opens with “The Florida Project,” starring Willem Dafoe, screening Oct. 11 in the Orpheum Theater. Written and directed by Sean Baker (“Tangerine”), the film will be released by A24, distributor of Oscar-winner “Moonlight.” Following the screening, the opening night party will be held at Four Winds’ rooftop ballroom.
Closing the festival on Oct. 19 is “Call Me by Your Name,” directed by Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash”), starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg. It screens at the Ace Hotel, to be followed by a closing-night party with live music at the New Orleans Jazz Market.
In between, the fest will feature several Spotlight films, including “Darkest Hour,” “Last Flag Flying,” “The Upside” and “Marshall,” which will unspool in theaters across New Orleans throughout the festival.
The festival will also recognize the directorial debut of actress Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”) with a special screening of her short film “The Tale of Four” and conversation centered around her career as a black woman in Hollywood, as both an actor and now as a director.
Another highlight for filmmakers will be the annual Industry Exchange, during which the festival facilitates more than 300 one-on-one meetings between filmmakers and industry leaders, including distributors, funders, grantors, and other resource and opportunity providers. A new programming strand, Change Makers, will highlight stories of social activism and advocacy, featuring nine feature-length documentary films and 10 documentary shorts.