Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story comes hot on trail of Questlove’s Oscar-winning Summer of Soul and, though the timing could be entirely coincidental, it’s hard not to compare both documentaries.
Both films celebrate a vibrant culture through music and art that had to find ways to persevere through challenges on the day of an anticipated event or leading up to it (in this case, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival). Meanwhile, the docs are supposed to enlighten audiences on the rich history that may have been casually overlooked in the past. However, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story feels more promotional, which creates some conflicting emotions for the viewer.
On one hand, directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern offer a brisk and entertaining movie filled with great musical numbers, neat archival footage, and an infectious energy provided by enthusiastic supporters of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival; including high profile celebrities who have played at the festival and speak highly of it. Everyone is gracious and on their best behaviour for the doc, although hip-hop artist Pitbull presents himself as someone who’s convinced the movie is about him. Pitbull is harmless and very goofy in the doc, but Mr. Worldwide’s testimonials are out of step with the movie’s continuity.
Even though Marshall and Suffern show affection for the festival through their filmmaking, the emphasis tends to shift from tradition to what the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival can offer attendees. The intent may have come from a sincere place, but too often Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story feels like an awkward handout that’s trying to sell the audience on an experience; as if the future of the festival is up in the air.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie