Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story offers a fun time for all while giving audiences a taste for why this New Orleans festival is so popular.
The documentary has the unfortunate luck of opening right after Summer of Soul won the Oscar for Best Documentary. I say this because comparisons between the two are inevitable as unfair as it may be. We ought to recognize this film for its own merits. Putting 50 years of history into a single 95-minute documentary is not an easy feat by any means. Filmmakers Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern are up to the task. The two filmmakers have been associated with music docs for some time now. This time around, they take audiences to The Big Easy.
Some of the highlights from celebrating 50 years include Jimmy Buffett, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, Pitbull, Al Green, Herbie Hancock, Aaron Neville, and Earth, Wind & Fire. There are many other performances in the documentary. You’re either coming for the festival’s history, musical performances, or both. But again, there’s so much to pack into 95 minutes, which also includes the credits. There’s the interviews discussing the fest and New Orleans and then there’s being able to take in the performances, however long or short they are. The bulk of the footage comes from the 2019 installment. The filmmakers were very busy in the weeks following The Gift premiere at SXSW.
Festival director Quint Davis manages to give audiences a lot of information about the festival’s history. He also executive produces the film. One tidbit he lets us in on is the fact that Jimmy Buffett is the fest’s top draw in terms of performers. Is this a surprise for anyone? Buffett is also an executive producer and his Rolling Stones cover song closes out the film.
You cannot make this documentary without addressing the elephant in the room: Hurricane Katrina. Bruce Springsteen was among a number of headlining performers in 2006. Anyone listening to his performance of “My City of Ruins” likely got chills. I know that I did. It’s a powerful tune just as it was in the period following 9/11. Following the devastation, the 2006 fest almost didn’t even happen because of all the flooding. New Orleans managed to persevere and put on a show. In the festival’s entire history, there were only two years in which they had to cancel: 2020 and 2021. They came back strong in 2022, no doubt stirring up memories from 2006. It’s the same way for a lot of major events after two years of either cancellations or reduced capacity. Rise up, indeed.
It might be the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival but jazz is not always the big show during the fest. However, jazz is still big in The Big Easy. Look no further than Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. The venue is solely dedicated to jazz music. But in any event, the festival has kept the musical genre alive and this film ensures that the fest’s legacy stays alive.
DIRECTORS: Frank Marshall & Ryan Suffern
Sony Classics released Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story in theaters on May 13, 2022. Grade: 3.5/5
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