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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

November 2011 / New Orleans Film Festival

Yours Truly in a Swampby
Leonard Earl Johnson

November 2011

* * *

New Orleans Film Festival

by Leonard Earl Johnson

www. LEJ. org

The Sunset Limited from Los Angeles was six hours late arriving in New Orleans on the first day of the 2011 New Orleans Film Festival. Passengers and on-board staff were flummoxed. The Festival films presumably had gone on an earlier train.

“They don’t send film on reels anymore, or by train,” L. A. Norma pointed out. “Everything is on those little plastic disks now.”

The hungry man who boarded at Shriver, Louisiana offered her a bite of his Baby Ruth candy bar and added, “Or sent over the Internet.” He was an elderly man with weak legs, a loudly proclaimed hunger, and a face sunburned from waiting by the tracks since eight that morning. Shriver is a flag-stop an hour or so outside of New Orleans.

“My ride could only drop me off then,” he told the Train Assistant. “There was no shade and nobody could tell me anything.” The T. A. found the man some things to eat from the dining car’s nearly empty pantry. He eagerly joined our car’s chorus of complaints.

The other passengers had all been given little packets of dried fruit, crackers, yogurt, cheese and a small bottle of water. These items were picked up in Lafayette, along with L. A. Norma and yours truly. We got them, too. “For free, to ease your trip,” said the beleaguered Train Assistant. “This train is plumb out’a food.”

“Free” helped, but not much. Most simply wanted the journey to end. No one takes the train for speed, but six hours hurts one's sense of achievement. The man who boarded at Shriver wanted revenge, but no one could think of anything that would not further delay the train.

We were just starting our journey and were still fresh. We fished two beers from our carry-on bag and headed for the Observation Car. We had spirted four Abita Ambers on board to lessen costs and, now, the disappointment that it would be too dark to see the Mississippi River. Anyway, the train’s bar had closed at Shriver. “So the bartender can count the bottles,” L. A. Norma reckoned.

Explanations were proffered as to why we were running six hours late. I bet on the one about a derailed freighter outside San Antonio. Norma chose the belligerence of passing oil tankers and freighters.

Unlike other Earthlings, Americans have but one track for all trains. “The magic of deregulation,” Norma snorted. When Amtrak meets a freighter the freighter has right-of-way, and Am-trickle whimpers off the line and waits for it to pass. Between Los Angeles and New Orleans this can happen a lot.

A derailment, on the other hand, stops everyone. “More democratic,” I said to Norma.

Norma said, “Screw equality.” Smoking is not allowed on Amtrak, and Norma, a chimney, is never in too amiable a mood when on the train. As far as our time was concerned, we would not be traveling any longer than usual, just at night.

“Welcome to The New Third World,” she said to the T. A., who handed her a free bottle of water and wrote “NOL” on the little tickets she placed over our seats.

We pulled into Union Station hours after our ride had given up on us, and taken himself off to the Film Festival’s opening-night Gala at the Columns Hotel on Saint Charles Avenue. There Louisiana red beans and rice were being served to celebrants while we hailed a taxi.

“We have been the week in Acadiana and we’re not in need of any red beans and rice,” Norma told the taxi driver, who did not care. He wore a T-shirt that read: “My Parents went to New Orleans, and all I got was this Lousy I. Q." He told Norma to put her cigarette out and drove us to Squalor Heights.

Next morning we awoke early, for the grand boudin breakfast at Cake Café and Bakery on Spain and Charters. Connie Castille, who, with Allison Bohl, won the 2007 Louisiana Film Maker Award for their masterful 25-minute documentary / drama / comedy / tragedy, I Always Do My Collars First, sat next to us and said hello. Another of Castille's films, King Crawfish, played as part of the 2011 New Orleans Film Festival.

“If you have not seen their film, put down your boudin and bagel and go get it from the library right now, ” Norma told our waitress – who, fortunately for us, did not.

“Forgive his modesty,” Norma said, when I suggested they catch Zachary Godshall and Ross Brupbacher’s feature film, Lord Byron, at Canal Place Cinema. I have a five-second flash on-screen playing a lump in a swampy hobo camp outside of Lafayette. “He is such a good actor Godshall said he didn’t need to wear make up,” Norma informed the ladies.

Not that I had more than those five-seconds to do with it, but Lord Byron was also screened and well received earlier this year at Sundance.

The best film at the Festival that we almost did-not-see was Flood Streets. “Who wants to see another Katrina story,” Norma grumped in the taxi ride up to The Prytania, on Prytania.

“Who, indeed,” we laughed on the way home. What a great work! Flood Streets is less a Katrina story than a well told story about New Orleans esprit showcased against a post-Katrina daze. Just the kind of film to thrill those who worship at New Orleans altar. And further perplex those dryland-ers who do not understand why.

Flood Streets executive producer and script writer was Michelle Benoit. Other producers were Glen Pitre (best known in these swamps for directing Belizaire the Cajun – 1986), and Harry Shearer, whose feature The Big Uneasy (where have we heard that before) is ready for release, but was not at the Festival. He makes a cameo appearance as a teaching dentist in Flood. The original story was written by Helen Krieger, and directed by Joseph Meissner, who also plays the film’s male lead.

A sweet back story: Krieger and Meissner sold their home to finance this great film of their very own post-K. story – the story of any number of us.
Flood Streets clip _____________________________________________________________________________ © 2011, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
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