When it comes to film locations, you can’t ask for a livelier, more multi-colored urban backdrop than New Orleans, Louisiana. And we tried to include this vibrant city in our series whenever possible. The obvious place to start is Mardi Gras; the Tuesday preceding Lent, the day before Ash Wednesday. Many cities around the world boast grand Mardi Gras celebrations, but New Orleans’ festivities are perhaps the most infamous and adored; and we were lucky that our shoot coincided with this celebration.

The forth episode, simply titled, “Mardi Gras,” is punctuated with imagery of parades and merriment throughout. Before experiencing it for myself, I (probably like most) had imagined Mardi Gras as a weekend of debauchery filled with drinking and girls-gone-wild behavior. I was wrong.

First of all, it’s more like a season than a weekend. Parades begin over a month before actual Mardi Gras and they grow ever more relentless in numbers, size and scope. The parades have names (and themes) — Krewe du Vieux, Krewe of Bilge, Perseus, Cleopatra, Excalibur, Babylon, Bacchus, Barkus, Zulu… the list goes on and on (I counted 77 on a recent parade calendar). These parades are steeped in tradition and intention. Krewe du Vieux, for instance (named for the Vieux Carre, the “Old” Quarter) is known for depicting adult themes mixed with biting political commentary. Bacchus (the first krewe to have celebrities appear as Kings of the parade) has spawned the growingly popular “pun” parade, Barkus — you guessed it — dressed-up dogs are the Kings of this parade. After all, who can resist a canine in costume?

Besides Mardi Gras, another big thing that comes to mind when thinking of New Orleans is music. And the locals take their music seriously. It’s hard to walk through the French Quarter without hearing the sounds of multiple live bands penetrating the streets from all directions. We were anxious to highlight a slice from the abundance of local musicians in our series. And the students were more than happy to invite our camera crew along, while taking in a live band.

In the third episode, we feature a performance by the legendary, Little Freddie King. He sings his hit “Dig A Hole.” This smooth blues ballad provides just the right accompaniment to our weary students as they dig trenches for the house’s foundation, (although I suspect the lyrics are actually about digging a grave). Episode five features a live performance by the local band, Rotary Downs, as they serenade three of our female students unwinding and dishing about the boys.

Happy coincidences often link the students back to New Orleans. One of our characters, Amarit, eagerly informed us one morning that he was going to volunteer for “crowd control” at a rally on campus. Senator Barack Obama was coming to Tulane University to give a speech during his race for the democratic presidential nomination. Amarit was thrilled because he was a supporter of Obama and wanted to hear him speak.

As filmmakers, we were excited by the timeliness of this event. Amarit’s participation clearly (and organically) locks our documentary in time, and connects the series to the greater context of the country as a whole and the political climate in which these actions take place. In addition, Obama’s speech focuses on the rebuilding of the city of New Orleans, which seamlessly blends with images of students constructing the house.

As a documentarian, it is stimulating and certainly challenging to find ways to incorporate the city and its events into the story as they unfold around our subjects and their lives; our ears and eyes always wide open.

Michael Selditch
Executive Producer/Director