Opening night of any film festival is reason enough for a cinema fan to party, especially if that festival happens to be playing out in New Orleans. But Wednesday night (Oct. 14) — which brought the first act of the 2015 New Orleans Film Festival‘s jam-packed nine-day 2015 run — felt especially worthy of a Crescent City-style throwdown.
There was a red carpet, of course. There were flashbulbs. There were assorted celebrities and dignitaries, including Houma actress Quvenzhane Wallis, New Orleans actress Laura Cayouette and filmmaker Robert Budreau, director of the festival’s opening-night selection, the jazz drama “Born to Be Blue.” Before Wednesday, Budreau’s film had previously screened only once publicly, at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival.
[Read about who was who on the red carpet.]
But there was also New Orleans’ stately, century-old Orpheum Theater, recently reopened after a meticulous renovation following the facility’s crippling by Hurricane Katrina and the floods in 2005. Wednesday night’s festivities saw the downtown theater hosting its first proper
movie screening in years — and it looked the part.
With its intricate Beaux Arts décor painstakingly preserved and returned to its early 20th century glory — from the terracotta ceiling in the lobby to the stunningly detailed plaster accents adorning nearly every other surface, from the stage all the way up to the second balcony — the Orpheum felt every bit as much the star of the show as the film it was celebrating. Needless to say, it provided stiff competition for even the most glamorous of those walking the red carpet
“This is exciting. We’ve been working on this for a while,” New Orleans Film Society Executive Director Jolene Pinder said, a glass of champagne in her hand, in discussing the festival’s first time hosting an opening night at the Orpheum. “It kind of just feels right.”
Behind the scenes, the technical crew made use of the state-of-the-art digital projection system installed at the Orpheum only one day before, complementing the theater’s much-ballyhooed acoustics. As such, the night felt like a step up to the next level not just for the film festival, but also for New Orleans’ film community, which can now boast of an undeniably glamorous old-school movie palace suitable for A-list red-carpet events.
“What a special time this is, for both this building’s history and our city’s history, to be back in the Orpheum, where we used to have movies,” Pinder said. “And now we have it return as the most majestic place to see cinema in the city.”
Unlike in recent years, this year’s opening-night film wasn’t shot in Louisiana. “Born to Be Blue,” which stars Ethan Hawke as troubled jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, was filmed mostly in Canada. Regardless, it’s still very much a product of the state’s booming production industry, as all of the film’s post-production work was handled by Plantation Village Studios outside of Baton Rouge.
For that reason, and others, Budreau said it was only fitting to showcase “Born to Be Blue” in the birthplace of jazz.
“I was here with Ethan last summer, kind of preparing for this movie, work-shopping for this movie, getting inspired by the jazz and by the city itself,” Budreau said. “I feel like that was an important part of the process for us. So to be back here, premiering the film in America and in New Orleans, is really important to Ethan and I. It’s really great.”
After the screening and an in-theater Q-and-A with Budreau and “Born to Be Blue” producer Jake Seal, a New Orleans brass band led moviegoers in what has become a recent tradition for the film festival: an opening-night second-line.
In this case, the parade marched festival attendees from the Orpheum to Canal Street for a short stretch, then over to the Civic Theatre just off Poydras Avenue for a pull-out-the-stops opening-night shindig.
That will be followed by eight more days of screenings at venues all over town — including a full-day lineup at the Orpheum on Saturday (Oct. 17) that will include the Shreveport-shot music biopic “I Saw the Light,” starring Tom Hiddleston as country-music legend Hank Williams, and Sandra Bullock’s New Orleans-shot political dramedy “Our Brand is Crisis” — as well as a raft of panel discussions, workshops and parties.