According to recent industry reports, as of December 2011, Louisiana had received applications from 150 productions with a total anticipated spending of $1.9 billion, including $1.3 billion in this state. These figures represent a growth that not even Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 was able to slow down. Now, the third in the nation in number of productions, only behind Los Angeles and New York City, New Orleans has solidified as a major player in the industry and adequately earned the title of Hollywood South.
Like other creative hubs, New Orleans is home to a wide range of filmmakers, artists and musicians from all parts of the country and the world, many whom have settled in the city for a piece of the pie and job opportunities. This local film community and a growing number of regular joes who have recently discovered the world of low budget and lesser known movies have created a spark in demand for alternative film content.
Take the 22-year-old New Orleans Film Festival (NOFF) for example. According to Executive Director Jolene Pinder, last year's edition had the biggest audience to date, with a 57 percent increase over the previous year and it counted more than 120 filmmakers in attendance. The New Orleans Film Society (NOFS), the organization responsible for the fest, also puts out events like Film-o-Rama, a panorama held in May that brings some of the hits from the earlier round of festivals, as well as the French Film Festival, a showcase presented in conjunction with the Consulat général de France à La Nouvelle-Orléans.
The NOFS, whose mission is "to engage, educate, and inspire through the art of film," has partnered with smaller local theaters to host events like these and special screenings. They also offer great benefits for their members. Some of the perks of being a supporter of the organization include one free admission to the Prytania Theatre every month, and to a specific film at Chalmette Movies every Thursday, as well as free sneak preview tickets to unreleased films, special advance ticket options during the NOFF, members-only discount on tickets to all NOFS events and on NOFS merchandise and eligibility to serve as a juror for the annual NOFF.
Although still not on the same caliber as the real Hollywood and the Big Apple in terms of alternative film scene, New Orleans offers a variety of opportunities for locals to wonder away from the ordinary and to delve into the world of independent films, foreign language productions, documentaries and classics.
5339 Prytania Street
New Orleans, LA 70115-4136
The Prytania Theatre is the only single-screen movie theatre in Louisiana and the oldest operating theatre in New Orleans. It has recently been renovated with new seating, lobby, a much larger screen and state-of-the-art sound and projection. Among Prtytania's major appeals is its Classic Movies series that happens every weekend and Wednesdays at noon. Also popular is its Midnight Movies program that happens on Fridays and Saturdays at midnight. Check out its website for latest film schedules for these two programs.
Chalmette Cinema Shopping Center
8700 West Judge Perez Dr., Suite D
Chalmette, LA 70043
304 - 9992
Although it may be a little out of the way for Uptowners and friends, this recently- renovated theater is dedicated to deliver a diverse array of movies that are important socially, even if they are box office failures. They believe that New Orleans is equally worthy of the same movies that play elsewhere.
Hollywood Cinemas 9
1401 West Esplanade Ave.
Kenner, LA 70065
472-6311 or 472-6123
For the Kenner crowd, this theater is conveniently located at the Esplanade Mall. It was supposed undergo renovations in 2010, but nothing has been done since its announcement. Its unique Indian film program makes it a great venue for Bollywood fans.
Theaters at Canal Place
333 Canal St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Theaters at Canal went through a major revamp in 2010 that gave room for high-back leather chairs, dine-in café and brand new surround sound system. This fancy venue now programs more mainstream blockbusters than before, but it is still a great place to find critically acclaimed indies and foreign films. It is conveniently located for French Quarter residents and people working in the CBD. Like the Prytania and Chalmette theatres, the Theaters at Canal is also one of the venues that hosts the annual New Orleans Film Festival.
AMC Elmwood Palace 20
1200 Elmwood Park Blvd.
Although this theater is not the typical alternative venue, the Palace is one of only 60 theaters of the multiplex giant across the country that is part of AMC independent™. AMC's initiative aims to bring to these markets distinct and unconventional independent films throughout the year, including AMC-exclusive releases.
(Really) Alternative Venues
1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70113-1311
Sometimes controversial, this unconventional movie theater and art gallery offers "something for and against everyone." Rene Broussard, who has been running the establishment for more than 25 years, currently operates the venue without any paid staff or public funds. Although not the coziest theater in New Orleans, Zeitgeist has one of the best alternative film selections in the city, personally selected by Broussard. The two major events that are held at this theater are the Middle Eastern Film Festival and the Canada is Bigger than the U.S. series. Check out the theater's website for a full list of upcoming events and screenings. The schedule is updated frequently.
Bars, Cafés, and Other Venues
Sometimes it takes a little effort to find out about these underground screenings. Most indie projects have little to no marketing budgets. Good ways of keeping up with such events is to pay attention to posters and postcards displayed in coffee shops around the city, and to follow the films' social media feeds and sign up for their newsletters. Community centers, high schools, universities, churches, bars and cafés are very popular venues for documentaries and local indie productions.
Independent Filmmaker's Night, for example, hosts most of its events at the Blue Nile in the Marigny. Café Istanbul at the New Orleans Healing Center in the Bywater neighborhood recently screened the Malian film and 1987 Cannes Film Festival Jury prize winner Yeelen, presented in conjunction with AfricaNOLA and the NOFS.
NOFS Outdoor Screenings
The New Orleans Film Society kicked off its outdoor screenings at the New Orleans Museum of Art last month with Streecar Named Desire. On April 13, the NOFS will be presenting the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Breakfast at Tiffany's screens on May 4 and The Wizard of Oz on June 8. Screenings start at 7:30 p.m. in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA. Admission for the screening is $3 for NOFS/NOMA members; $6 adult general admission; and free for those 17 and under.
48 Hour Film Festival
Another fun, off-the-beaten-path event to look out for is the New Orleans 48 Hour Film Project, which happens sometime in August and it gives locals the chance to make their own film as part of a two-day long competition. Out of the 38 teams that signed up last year, 35 completed their films, but only 25 projects were turned in on time. The finished films screened at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. The winner participated in the New Orleans Film Festival and moved into the national round of the competition.