Aficionados of New Orleans second-line and jazz funeral culture, take note: Mid-City's The Broad Theater will give local writer Jason Berry's documentary film City of a Million Dreams a theatrical release on June 10.
The 89-minute film traces the evolution of the jazz funeral through vintage photos, archival footage, historical re-creations, and footage of modern jazz funerals. It covers the African rhythms of Congo Square, European marching bands, Sicilian brass bands, and the jazz bands of the early 20th century. The documentary's primary interview subjects are Dr. Michael White, a New Orleans-born clarinetist and veteran performer of many jazz funerals, and Deb Cotton, a culture writer for Gambit Weekly.
The movie also tackles New Orleans' insistence on zigging when the rest of the country zags, as evidenced by the city's habit of responding to death with singing, dancing, and a party. As the film notes, that habit of celebrating life amidst grief, death, and heartbreak served New Orleans and its residents well in tragedies ranging from the yellow fever epidemic to Hurricane Katrina to the crack epidemic and skyrocketing murder rates of the 80s and 90s.
City of a Million Dreams is an extension of Berry's book of the same title, published in 2018 by the University of North Carolina Press.