Described by MovieMaker Magazine as “a happy blur of daiquiris and alligator nuggets, passionate, intelligent filmmaking and bizarre bouncy castle encounters,” the New Orleans Film Festival—now in its 25th year—has firmly established itself as one of the most reputable regional film festivals in the country. It’s been twice named by MovieMaker as one of the “25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.”
Known the world over for its charm, eclecticism, and artistic vibrance, the city of New Orleans offers the perfect backdrop for a film festival. Festival guests often reference the camaraderie among attendees, something that the festival nourishes through receptions, parties, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and opportunities to interact with local audiences. Filmmakers find themselves hatching plans for future projects over red beans and rice and praline bacon, meeting new filmmaking collaborators while exploring Mardi Gras floats at the annual filmmaker brunch, and rubbing elbows with Oscar winners at mansion parties in the city’s French Quarter.
In the past few years, NOFF has experienced tremendous growth: in just four years, the festival has more than doubled its overall attendance, now serving over 22,000 attendees, and has also quadrupled the number of filmmakers in attendance (nearly 85% of all films had a representative in attendance at the festival). It’s fast becoming known as a festival where emerging filmmakers flock for the opportunity to connect with each other and interact with a diverse audience in a city that has an international reputation for knowing how to have a good time.
The festival prides itself on being a discovery festival, where overlooked films can find a home. More than 91% of all festival selections come directly from submissions. The remaining slots are curated films that represent some of the most exciting end-of-year releases of the year. Last year’s festival, for example, included screenings of the Oscar-nominated films Nebraska and August Osage County well ahead of their scheduled release dates, as well as the national premiere of Godfrey Reggio’s new film Visitors.
The festival’s recent growth has dovetailed with the region’s continued expansion as a major film and television production hub. The city is, after all, home to Court 13, the filmmaking collaborative responsible for Beasts of the Southern Wild, as well as Bill Ross, co-director of the multiple award-winning films Tchoupitoulas and 45365. It’s also where an increasing number of big-budget and small-budget Hollywood films are shot (including 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Django Unchained, and The Butler). NOFF taps into this local talent pool and industry presence, allowing festival goers to benefit from the experience and knowledge that the filmmaking community in New Orleans has to offer.
Last year’s fest also welcomed guests like Oscar nominees Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Steve McQueen, Patricia Clarkson, and Alfre Woodard, as well as Golden Globe nominees Faith Ford and Sarah Paulson. Opening Night featured a conversation with the cast and crew of the Oscar-nominated film 12 Years a Slave.
Awards and Prizes
We like to make our visiting filmmakers feel like they’ve found a creative home here in New Orleans, so given this commitment, we offer two complimentary nights of lodging to every film with a representative coming in from out of town, along with a Festival All-Access pass for each filmmaker to make the most of the fest. We also offer a travel stipend to each feature filmmaker competing for a jury award.
Last year, the festival offered a total of $80,000 in cash and prizes to winners of Jury Awards and Audience Awards, including Panavision camera packages, Kodak film stock, and software. Jurors for these awards represent some of the most talented leaders in the industry, including the likes of Oscar winners Melissa Leo, Tia Lessin, and Luke Matheny; industry writers like Matt Singer of The Dissolve and Nigel Smith of Indiewire; Independent Lens producer Lois Vossen; programmers Charlotte Cook of HotDocs and Sadie Tillery of Full Frame; experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs; and godfather of Third Cinema Kidlat Tahimik.
Festival Alum Success Stories
In its 25-year history, NOFF has served as a launching board for many successful filmmakers and actors. In 1990, before he was a famous comedian, Louis C.K. attended NOFF to show his short film “Caesar’s Salad,” which won a prize for Best Short. Another one of NOFF’s earliest winners was Todd Phillips (director of The Hangover and Old School), who won his first award for filmmaking at New Orleans for a documentary that he made in 1993 about punk rocker GG Allin.
One of the stand-out documentaries from the 2013 lineup, The Whole Gritty City, had its world premiere at NOFF and was then picked up by 48 HOURS to receive a national broadcast on the CBS Television Network as a two-hour primetime special.
A number of other films have premiered at NOFF and then gone on to screen at Sundance or get Academy Award attention. Sergio Oksman, for example, had the U.S. premiere of his doc short “A Story for the Modlins” at the 2012 NOFF, and then screened it at Sundance the following year. Additionally, the short film “Asad,” which won Best Narrative Short at the 2012 NOFF, has gone on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short.