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Bringing different angles to music at the 2016 New Orleans Film Festival

Radio and video stars are often pitted against one another, but the 2016 New Orleans Film Festival mends those combative ways by dedicating their screens to music videos and music documentaries. Now in its 27th year, the NOFF retains their foundational programming with features, shorts, experimental and animated films spread throughout the eight-day festival. The dates we want to talk about, though, are October 15, 17, and 19.

Those odd numbers in mid-October are when music will be hitting the screen  in all different ways. On October 17 (8:30pm) a blend of flags, dance, David Byrne, and local talent will be taking over the Entergy Giant Screen Theater (1 Canal Street) with the Ross Brother's documentary Contemporary Color. Not only are there synchronized flags, rifles, and sabers (as if that's not enough), but there are also performances by St. Vincent, Devonté Hynes, Zola Jesus, tUnE-yArDs, and Ira Glass, to name a few, in the documentary.

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Contemporary Color (film by Bill and Turner Ross)

The film is by New Orleans based filmmakers and brothers Bill and Turner Ross. They are often known for their immersive style in their documentaries - such as 45365, Tchoupitoulas, and Western - and with Contemporary Color, that immersive style had to be present and consciously wrangled as well. Why? Because there's music, and although their brilliant films may make you think they're beyond human, they too like to move and sway when a beat takes over.

As Bill explains, "You have to be more mindful of the way you're moving. It's very easy to get caught in the beat and ruin your shot because you're moving your camera frantically to faster music or bobbing your head to slower music. You want to feel the music and allow it to motivate your camera but not destroy the moment. Sometimes it's a hard road to navigate."

Navigate that road they did, and with it came moments and shots that encapsulate the complications and beauty that music, life, film, and performance can evoke. There is one shot, explains Bill, "it's a close up of one of the color guarders during the Ira Glass piece." The slow pace of the music and the slow zoom onto her as she has this moment creates a visual sound. "You wonder what she's thinking. Is she overwhelmed by this huge stage she's found herself on? Is she thinking about her father that just passed away? The camera move combined with the music allow us to reflect with her," Bill says.

 Turning the focus on the performers is also what we are going to do next. Filling up the screen at both the Entergy Giant Screen Theater on October 15 (2:45pm) and The Theaters at Canal Place #2 on October 19 (5:45pm) will be the music video programming. This is 60 minutes of music and visuals paired together in forms that embrace the themes, messages, and artistic musings of musical performers.
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Still from "Frost" by Sven Helbig

In the modern world of Vimeo, YouTube, Bandcamp, etc. it is not often that musicians get to see themselves beyond the size of their computer screen. "It is a completely different experience seeing a film on the big screen versus releasing it via youtube. We hope it is gripping to the active audience that seeks out the Music Video block at NOFF. We are also excited to bring more visibility to our music, collaboration, and Worklight Pictures," says Nick Hüster of Mighty Brother, whose video "Muscle to Bone" will be screening.

As a musician and also an integral part in the artistic development of the music video, Hüster and Mighty Brother bandmate Jake Ryan, have a new challenge before them. As Hüster explains, "Music videos are a unique and challenging art form. They require great storytelling, artistry, and timing. [They] provide musicians a special opportunity to showcase their image. In a digital world they are necessary for musicians, they are unique and fun in the film world, and they usually lead to very collaborative and interesting pieces of work."

The pieces of work that will be screening during the Music Video block of the NOFF vary in everything from themes to filters to camera manipulation. All of them run between three and five minutes, which is somewhat a palpitation inducer for the projectionist sitting in the projection booth. At least, that's what I thought, but according to technical director of the NOFF, Sergio Andrés Lobo-Navia, "A music video program isn't very different than any other program of short films. One thing I do have to worry about are the various audio levels of the videos. Most of these films were originally created for the web so they're actually mixed much louder than what would be acceptable in a movie theater."

I am sticking with the palpitation inducer label even though Sergio's words came out calm and cool when discussing projection. No matter how fast paced or slow, these documentaries and videos are sure to hit the heart in a new manner. The filmmakers, the musicians, and the people behind the screenings are all ready to feel the music with the crowds of New Orleans, so be sure to check out the NOFF website for detailed information about screenings and where to buy your tickets.

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at [email protected].