HOT DOCS 2012 – Tchoupitoulas Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)


Directed by Bill Ross and Turner Ross

Tickets are still available for April 30, 4pm and May 5, 10pm: CLICK HERE

Editor’s note: This is Paolo’s introductory post on Entertainment Maven and I just wanted to take a moment to say how happy we are to have him with us. We’re sure he’s going to fit right in!

Kirk’s Comments: To add to Paolo’s insightful review, I must add that I thoroughly enjoyed this film as well. Highlights for me included watching the youngest brother react to all the sights and sounds as he was already deeply engaged with playing his own music at home. The vignettes do really well at showing the local culture and flair of New Orleans at night, my favorite involves a clam shucker and the way he interacts with his customers. The three brothers and their dog, Buttercup, are engaging and fascinating. The story is more about discovery than disaster, hence why the only “Katrina” reference is a visit the boys pay to a ferry boat abandoned due to damage after the hurricane. Tchoupitoulas is a strong recommend.  

Paolo here.

Tchoupitoulas, the name of a street in New Orleans and of the Ross Brothers’ SXSW/Hot Docs documentary about three of the street’s visitors, rolls off the tongue (pronounced “chop-ih-TOOL-us”). That’s our little secret.

The movie also somehow brings memories with its specificity, when an 11 year old named William, the youngest of his family and the movie’s narrator, plays his piccolo as part of his homework. Like how annoying could that have been in such a big house? But in front of the camera he’s shameless and honest in the best sense of those words, and his qualities are equally captivating when the movie gets on rolling, when he and two of his older brothers take the ferry from the city’s West Bank to its French Quartier (Parental permission is off-screen or else nonexistent). The only time we see him depressed is after they miss the ferry, when he says ‘no one cares about us,’ words more poignant coming from a child like him.

Tchoupitoulas is beautiful and sensory – an image later in the movie of a ferry ship hovering above the fog is pure lo-fi beauty. The sound is also as booming and presence-demanding as its subtle visuals. We the audience can hear the ship’s turbines make the water buzz, a ramp slowly and loudly descending, making us feel how exciting of an experience this must have been to William and his brothers. When the sun sets, this city seems permanently seeped in Mardi Gras, lit up red like a Tennessee Williams set, every corner filled by street musicians and storefronts of clubs and burlesque joints. Other directors would have taken advantage of and highlight the socioeconomic differences between these children and the others sharing these streets, but this movie, which is technically about ‘nothing’ factors in the freedom these children think they have despite of their circumstances.

The movie presents its themes subtly, especially that of William’s perspective of adulthood. Once in a while we hear William’s voice-overs, talking about being a six-time NFL champion and then becoming a lawyer. In his age everything is possible and this trip makes him and us believe this. The movie shows both sides of that quasi-solid wall between childhood and adulthood. Since William and his brothers are underage, they can’t get into the clubs, as much as he talks about wanting to get into them and experience the fun that the tourists are having. But the camera still gives us a glimpse of a burlesque number, a rap concert and dancing transvestites on top of a bar. This is fun in great, innocent eyes.

It has its sleepy moments, and its unconventional structure might be a turn-off for some audiences, but I’m happy that this movie is well-received by festival crowds.

Other reviews and Tweeters have been describing Tchoupitoulas as Malickian, since both works have the same cinematic stream-of-consciousness. But this movie actually reminds me of The Little Fugitive, a 1950’s movie that was indie decades before the style was in vogue. Kids were also the protagonists in that movie, Coney Island portrayed in the same stimulating light as New Orleans is in this one. And like their DIY ancestor, this movie shows that being lost isn’t always such a bad thing.

Like Entertainment Maven on Facebook

One thought on “HOT DOCS 2012 – Tchoupitoulas Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: