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Why do we dance for the dead? The powerful untold history of jazz funerals and burial traditions in New Orleans.
178 backers pledged $20,885 to help bring this project to life.

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ABOUT THE FILM:

Why do we dance for the dead? This documentary explores the complex roots of the New Orleans jazz funeral, using burial traditions as a viewfinder on the evolution of the city. Writer-director Jason Berry, a distinguished cultural historian and director of an award-winning film on the Vatican, Vows of Silence, has been researching and filming brass band funerals and musicians’ interviews, since the 1990s.

"Creole Dancer," by Herman Leonard
"Creole Dancer," by Herman Leonard

Jazz funerals are caravans of memory. Where did they come from? What explains their stunning dramas in the choppy rhythms of city life? Jazzmen before television called them “funerals with music.” The radiant second line dances descend from the burial choreographies of enslaved Africans in large rings at a public park called Congo Square. The grandeur of colonial-era French and Spanish marching band parades, the 19th century linear processions for yellow fever victims, and the emergence of Sicilian bands added to the melding of ethnic traditions, parades honoring the dead. In City of a Million Dreams, we follow the coming together of the ring and the line.

Dr. Michael White, Jazz Studies, Xavier University
Dr. Michael White, Jazz Studies, Xavier University

Our protagonist is Original Liberty Jazz Band leader Michael White, a prolific recording artist. We follow White’s search into the past of his musical ancestors who played at the dawn of jazz and carried the African-American funeral traditions into a new art form. White’s visit to Whitney Plantation opens a lens on the struggle of enslaved people, and the culture of freedom rising in the early burial parades, charged with themes of liberty and arrival. The film takes a jolting turn as White, after Hurricane Katrina, enters his flood-ravaged house, amid the loss of 5000 cds, 4000 books and all his compositions. Through White’s odyssey of renewal, he becomes an Everyman as the city slowly achieves its own resurrection.

An 1886 depiction of the dances in Congo Square
An 1886 depiction of the dances in Congo Square
The funeral of Andre Cailloux, the first black man to be given a full military funeral in New Orleans. 1863, in Union-occupied New Orleans.
The funeral of Andre Cailloux, the first black man to be given a full military funeral in New Orleans. 1863, in Union-occupied New Orleans.

As the film unfolds, we meet an array of cultural torch-bearers, like Fred Johnson of Black Men of Labor. The galvanizing Deb “Big Red“ Cotton, a Gambit Weekly blogger chronicling the second line, emerges as a powerful voice the people. Cotton throws a focus on gun violence that has beleaguered some of the parades for Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, spawned by the old benevolent society funerals. When Deb is one of the people wounded in a gang crossfire at a 2013 Mother’s Day parade, her public forgiveness of the assailants -- visiting her shooter in prison – takes the story in a powerful meditation on mercy and redemption.

Deb Cotton’s funeral drives the arc of our story on funerals with music, a tension between the breathtaking beauty of these rituals and the struggle for justice embedded in the history of City of a Million Dreams.

The memorial second line for our friend and team member, Deb "Big Red" Cotton
The memorial second line for our friend and team member, Deb "Big Red" Cotton

Interviews:

Michael White, Deb "Big Red" Cotton, Gregg Stafford, Milton Batiste, Harold "Duke" Dejean, Sybil Kein, Fred Johnson, Ed Buckner, Emily Suzanne Clark, Bruce Raeburn, Mark Hertsgaard, Philip and Keith Frazier and others.

The Crew:

To read more about our amazing crew members, click HERE 

Jason Berry: Writer/Producer/Director

Tim Watson: Editor 

Harris Done: Director of Photography

Simonette Berry: Associate Producer/Production Designer

Michael White: Research Producer/Narrator

Deb Cotton: Advising Producer

Jay Weigel: Composer

Maryse Dejean: Narrator

What we need:

With most of the filming done, we are on track for post-production in the fall and submission to 2019 film festivals, the standard route to secure distribution with PBS, HBO, Netflix, or other outlets. Jason Berry has a companion book forthcoming in November, City of a Million Dreams: New Orleans at Year 300 (University of North Carolina Press). We are seeking $20,000 to cover the next leg of the project, final shooting and securing permissions for still photos in editing a fine cut, before post-production. Every dollar makes a difference as we continue with fundraising.

Anything we raise beyond $20,000 will go towards post-production costs: securing rights to songs, and footage, color correction, and final editing. We offer an assortment of themed gifts for every contribution, as well as regular updates on our filming, screenings, parties, and special events. You will see the results of your donation not only in gifts but on the big screen, when City of a Million Dreams enters the festivals and is shown at museums and universities on the path to distribution.

Photography by Charles Lovell
Photography by Charles Lovell

In the gift category, we include images by Charles Lovell, whose coverage of the second line clubs and parading culture of the city yields beautiful images, timeless and compelling. The parading tradition has been threatened by gun culture and gang violence in a way that musicians and Social Aid and Pleasure Club leaders decry. This documentary is a case study on the power and the beauty of community culture, how tradition carries hope against violence, rejuvenating the soul of the city. This is a story that has to be told. We will have outreach screenings with discussion at area colleges, schools, and community centers. This film and the companion book will be teaching tools on New Orleans history for years to come. Help us pass this tradition on to the generations to come. We welcome your donation and support at any level. If you can't afford to give, please share our project with your friends and on social media. Please spread the word about City of a Million Dreams.

Risks and challenges

We have dealt with our share of risks since we began filming jazz funerals in the late 1990s. Our protagonist, clarinetist Michael White lost his home in Hurricane Katrina, which dealt a huge setback to the production plan. As we got into the final leg of filming last year, our secondary figure, Deb "Big" Red Cotton, a blogger of the parading culture, died from a residual bullet wound in a 2013 Mother's Day parade. Most of our filming and script revisions are done; we have expended about $280,000 to date and are working on the fine cut, with a proposal underway for an agent to represent us for distribution.

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    Pledge US$ 5 or more About US$ 5

    Thank You and Follow our Progress

    When you support the film at this and every other level your name will appear on the website's supporters page and the CITY OF A MILLION DREAMS Facebook page (unless you ask us to keep your donation anonymous). And you will have our heartfelt thanks!
    Also, you will get updates from the Production Team as the film progresses.

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    A Beautiful Photo and a Thank You

    -Thanks on the website's donor's section
    -Updates from the Production team
    -Download link to a beautiful high-res still photo from the film.

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    City of a Million Dreams EP

    -Download of a special, limited edition EP from Basin St. Records, featuring songs by Michael White that were composed at the Studio in the Woods, post-Katrina
    -Thanks on the web
    -Updates from the production team

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    Download the Film

    -Early Bird Digital Download of City of a Million Dreams as soon as it is released
    -Thanks on the web
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    Get the DVD

    -City of a Million Dreams DVD
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    DVDs for you and a friend

    -Two DVD package deal. One for you and one for a friend!
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    Blue Crescent CD

    -Michael White's CD "Blue Crescent"
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
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    Up From the Cradle of Jazz

    -A copy of "Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II" by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
    -Thanks on the web
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    The Good Times Rolled

    -A copy of "The Good Times Rolled, Black New Orleans 1978-1982" by Bernard Hermann
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
    -Thanks on the web
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    On Screen Thank You, Book and Film

    -An on-screen thank you
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
    - Choice of a copy of "Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II" by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones OR a copy of "The Good Times Rolled, Black New Orleans 1978-1982" by Bernard Hermann
    -Thanks on the web
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    T-shirt, book and film

    -Snazzy "City of a Million Dreams" T-shirt
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
    - - Choice of a copy of "Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II" by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones OR a copy of "The Good Times Rolled, Black New Orleans 1978-1982" by Bernard Hermann
    -On-screen thank you
    -Thanks on the web
    -Updates from the Production team

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    Screening Party package

    -Invite to the sneak peek screening party
    -Snazzy T-shirt
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
    -Download of a special, limited edition EP from Basin St. Records, featuring songs by Michael White
    - - Choice of a copy of "Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II" by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones OR a copy of "The Good Times Rolled, Black New Orleans 1978-1982" by Bernard Hermann
    -on-screen thank you
    -Thanks on the web
    -Updates from the Production team

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    The Second Liner Package

    -Invite to the sneak peek screening party
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
    -- Choice of a copy of "Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II" by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones OR a copy of "The Good Times Rolled, Black New Orleans 1978-1982" by Bernard Hermann
    -Download of a special, limited edition EP from Basin St. Records, featuring songs by Michael White
    -On-screen thank you
    -Thanks on the web
    -Updates from the Production team

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    Comprehensive Gift Package

    -Invite to the sneak peek screening party
    -Early Bird Digital Download of "City of a Million Dreams"
    -A copy of "Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II" by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones
    -A copy of "The Good Times Rolled, Black New Orleans 1978-1982" by Bernard Hermann
    -Download of a special, limited edition EP from Basin St. Records, featuring songs by Michael White
    -On-screen thank you
    -Thanks on the web
    -Updates from the Production team

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    VIP Donor Party Package

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    Invite for you and a guest to attend a VIP Donors party

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    VIP Art Lover Package

    A signed photograph by Charles Lovell
    Comprehensive Gift Package
    An invite for you and two guests to attend the VIP donors party

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    Musical Tour Package

    A tour of New Orleans music for you and a friend. You will meet the filmmakers for dinner and then go on a tour of some of the hottest acts in town, hearing behind-the-scenes stories about New Orleans music and culture from Jason Berry, who has interviewed countless jazz greats since the 1960's.
    Comprehensive Gift Package
    An invite for you and two guests to attend the VIP donors party
    Custom made second line umbrella

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Funding period

- (30 days)