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Why do we dance for the dead? To most people, jazz funerals are a mystery. In 2005, writer and videographer Deb Cotton leaves “hard-hearted Hollywood” for New Orleans, and becomes a chronicler of the parading club culture spawned by the legacy of funerals with music. This tradition is carried by the prolific clarinetist Michael White, renowned for playing “the widow’s wail” in sorrowful dirges. When Hurricane Katrina hits, White loses everything in the catastrophic flooding. In his struggle to rebuild, White becomes an everyman, embodying the resurrection spirit of jazz funerals. As Cotton follows the parading culture through the aching recovery, while White explores his ancestral roots in the dawn of jazz. The danced-memory of enslaved Africans charges a reimagining of antebellum Congo Square, juxtaposed with the grandeur of European marching bands. With burial pageants as a mirror on the city’s history, the film hits a violent turning point at a parade shooting, plunging Deb Cotton and Michael White into a search for the city’s soul.

Director's Biography:

Writer/Producer/Director Jason Berry recently released his tenth book, "City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300" (2018); it is the basis for the companion film documentary.

“His optimism, a faith of sorts, is grounded in the very story he tells,” Larry Blumenfeld wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “of a city still defined by ‘pageantries and memory rituals rituals of its varied people’ and’ ‘where people of different colors and cultures have daily interactions as they have done for generations.’ His book, an indispensable history, explains both what we might take care not to lose and why it’s so easy to believe it will always be so.”
Jason Berry
Jason Berry, Simonette Berry, Tim Watson
Jason Berry
90 Minutes
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