Directed by Richard Barber. 2013. USA. Color. 89 min.
"The Whole Gritty City is a documentary in the Fred Wiseman mold...sensitive, intelligent and inspirational."
— David Bianculli, Fresh Air, NPR
Q&A with director Richard Barber after the screening!
Richard Barber’s documentary plunges viewers into the world of three New Orleans school marching bands. The film follows children growing up in America's most musical city, and one of its most dangerous, as their band directors get them ready to perform in the Mardi Gras parades, and teach them to succeed and to survive.
The film features three marching bands in the years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city: the O. Perry Walker and L.E. Rabouin high school bands, and The Roots of Music, a new band for middle school-age children. These young beginners in Roots are put through their paces by the program's founder Derrick Tabb, drummer for the Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band.
We come to see the powerful positive role being in the band plays in their lives. 11-year-old Bear, determined to master the trumpet, lives in the shadow of an older brother murdered at age 19. 18-year-old drum major Skully shouts out to loved ones he's lost to violence, including the band director who was a father figure. 12-year-old Jazz aspires to become a musician like her father, even as her mother struggles to provide for the family.
The film culminates in a different kind of musical performance: a moving funeral tribute by band members from across the city to a young man who was one of their own.
This New Orleans marching band story is at the same time a unique portrayal of an American inner city. It highlights men with an open-eyed, deep commitment to the community they've grown up in and the children in their charge.
"The film, which (excitingly) is as close to cinema verite as network television ever gets…at once heartbreaking and hopeful…”
— Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times
"Part rhapsody, part elegy on those occasions when the dissonance of senseless tragedy undercuts the tuneful exuberance, this moving documentary ...follows several young musicians in verité style as they're coached by inspiring band leaders to participate in the Mardi Gras parade festivities."
— Matt Roush, TV Guide