“Tchoupitoulas,” a beautifully shot documentary by the Ross Brothers, Bill and Turner, accompanies teenage brothers William, Bryan and Kentrell Zanders (and their dog Buttercup) from their hectic household in Algiers, across the Mississippi, for a first nighttime in the wonder and exhilaration of New Orleans.
Caught up in the swirl of street performers, musicians (including a glitter angel who teaches William a bit about playing the flute), evangelical crusaders, revelers, and drag queens and strippers seen sureptiously through clubs’ doorways, the boys miss their midnight ferry home. They spend the night, as the Crescent City’s party winds down, wandering away from the crowds to discover a once-grand, abandoned river boat and explore its ghostly ballroom, bar and staterooms.
In one of countless spectacular images, as dawn breaks, a fire juggler, silhouetted in front of the river and sky, swings her tools around her body one last time, to extinguish them, and the boys get ready to go home.
“Tchoupitoulas,” is sensual, experiential, specific and simultaneously abstract. And William’s assessment of his night is also an apt description of viewing the film, “We saw some pretty amazing things.”
“Tchoupitoulas” opens today at the IFC Center; in Landsdowne, PA, on December 14, Los Angeles on December 21 and additional cities in 2013.