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Short Doc: Patron Saint of Jazz Fest

"The longer you live here, the less fit you are to live anywhere else."

 

"The longer you live here, the less fit you are to live anywhere else."

We worked with Christopher Stoudt (interview below) to take a look at the contagious nature of New Orleans culture through the lens of Jazz Fest.

Patron Saint of Jazz Fest is a loving look at the colorful fans, vibrant culture, and soulful music that make up the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The film follows three Jazz Fest “die-hards” who experience the festival with such joy and obsessive fervor that attending Jazz Fest has become not just a fun annual tradition, but a soul-nourishing act bordering on religious devotion.

We've worked with the director, Christopher Stoudt, on various projects through the years. Below, we talk with him about the making of the film, what drew him to the project, and his passion for documentaries.

On Patron Saint of Jazz Fest

What did you hope to achieve when working on this documentary?

One of the most gratifying parts, to me, is just creating a record of something. For the Jazz Fest doc, I wanted to create a record – a timestamp – of a time and a place, so that 20 years from now you can look back on the film and say, “Oh my gosh, we could see outside and Liuzza's by the tracks and look at the shirts and look what people are wearing and look at how the houses are painted.” It just exists to tell a story.

You grew up going to Jazz Fest, so you have this whole lifetime of experience going into making the documentary. How much of it is a portrait of your personal relationship with Jazz Fest?

I think any documentary is subjective, right? Because it's told through the lens of the filmmaker. So...the shots that I chose, the questions that I asked, and the way that it was arranged and presented and the things that I was drawn to, all of it. Yeah — all of that is filtered through my own experience, absolutely. So for me, I like outside the gates of Jazz Fest more than the festival itself. And I really wanted to make this film because I wanted to just capture that feeling outside of the gate and what it's like to participate in this mass culture and collective agreement among New Orleanians that during Jazz Fest, we celebrate and we devote ourselves to the culture — this particular lifestyle.

It's entirely subjective – this was an opportunity for me to write a love letter to New Orleans and to make something that showed how I love the city. And I think Jazz Fest was just the vehicle to do that. Because in telling a story about Jazz Fest, you can tell a story about the city and about our culture and how much we have devoted ourselves to this particular way of life, to this set of traditions and rituals, and poke some fun at how seriously we take it sometimes, you know? For some people it is sort of a religion, it's something they take that seriously. It was fun to play with the word devotion and the way we devote ourselves to certain things.

How about seeing it through the eyes of outsiders?

Yeah. If you were trying to make a film about Jazz Fest, you would want to go to the source, right? Jazz Fest organizers, Jazz Fest founders, key musicians that contributed to the culture, like the Dr. Johns of the world, the Neville Brothers, musicians rooted in African American Blues and Jazz. But we didn't do that. We told this story of Jazz Fest through two transplants and a guy that lives in California. It was fun to tell a story of New Orleans, but go as far from the source as possible to do it. That was kind of the whole point – to show that this culture really does pervade beyond just being born here. It's a way of life. It's an experience that anyone can be a part of. It's something that any one of us can connect to, if we wish to do so. And that's sort of what New Orleans is. It's the open invitation to experience compassion and connectivity to people with a shared set of cultural traditions. That's what Mardi Gras is, that's what Jazz Fest is. It's the eternal ritual. That's the fabric of our city.

Would you say that the thing that you find in common with your other documentaries and Patron Saint of Jazz Fest is the sense of ritual or community passion?

I think it's the shared community tradition...sort of thumbing your nose at the status quo. Just like the Caramel Curves are an all female bike group in a sport dominated by men. Like Mister Okra was a man who still sold fruit from the back of his truck and drove around the neighborhood singing his selections – I mean he was the last living vegetable vendor of New Orleans, the last of his kind. The tap dance kids are going against the grain of what is expected of them. They're trying to stand up for themselves and build lives for themselves in a situation that's really hard for them where they don't have the resources they need and they don't have the support that they might depend on.

For Patron Saint of Jazz Fest, it was about finding characters that weren't satisfied with their 9 to 5 and needed to express themselves beyond it. They needed an outlet for all of this joy and love for music that they felt that they had inside of them, despite conforming to society’s standards.

On Documentary Filmmaking

Would you say that your latest focus has been documentary filmmaking?

Yeah. I like finding the humor and heart in characters that people might not relate to at all, and bridging that connection between something that seems very foreign to us and sort of realizing that we connect to it after all. So, documentary filmmaking, I got into it kind of out of necessity. Originally it was because I wanted to create a series called 'New Orleans Style' and I wanted to document New Orleans because I was living there and didn't have any other resources except the city itself. I didn't have actors or crew or even a script, but there were stories out there that I knew I could try to tell. So I started filming in New Orleans and did a couple of videos that were fine. They live online, but they're not really doing anything. And then I think what happened was documentaries just became a way for me to tell a story without needing to rely on anyone else to do it. I didn't need a crew. I didn't need particularly nice equipment.

When you talk about your work you give a lot of attention to how you're hoping it will be perceived or how it will serve society. There's a responsibility, it seems, to how you approach this stuff.

Yeah, absolutely. It's so important to accurately portray people in a truthful way that honors them and their story, and is faithful to their experience. But it's also important to present it in a way that other people can relate to. The entire point of all of this is to create connections and find commonalities; to find universal truths. And showing that we can connect to people we don't necessarily relate to or look like, or sound like.

With your 60 second docs and your projects in California and other places outside of New Orleans, there are similar themes. There's like a sense of independence and entrepreneurial spirit; individual versus the world, if you will.

I love underdogs. I love people that don't have a voice. Giving platforms to people that deserve them. I love making the audience, or the viewer, connect with the character that they thought that they would never be able to relate to. That's kind of why documentaries are amazing. Because they're real characters. You know? They live in the real world with us.

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