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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Acclaimed Documentary on Post-Katrina New Orleans Marching Bands “The Whole Gritty City” Released on VOD

Whole Gritty City Documentary

New York, NY — Ten years after the natural and human-made disaster called Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans, an award-winning film focusing on New Orleans children struggling to reach adulthood as they rebuild their lives and the city’s musical culture is being widely released on VOD platforms. THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY, an 89-minute documentary that plunges viewers into the world of three New Orleans school marching bands, is now available on VOD and DVD on Amazon Prime and Amazon Instant Video, and on Hulu and Hulu Plus. It is also part of the opening lineup of films on the new streaming service specializing in independent films of the African diaspora, KweliTV.

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. Navigating the urban minefield through moments of setback, loss, discovery, and triumph, these children and their adult leaders reveal the power and resilience of a culture.

THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY 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.

As Mardi Gras approaches and the young musicians progress, the film focuses on a few of these kids. Partly through video they create with portable cameras, we discover their passions and quirks, their personal struggles and tragedies. 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 be a musician like her father, even as her mother struggles to provide for the family.

Along with their bandmates these kids enter into the rigors and glory of marching in Mardi Gras parades in front of thousands of cheering spectators. 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. Viewers who know first-hand the African American urban experience find a celebration of the strength and insight of these men, and the potential and resilience of their students. Others find a moving, empathetic portrayal of an unfamiliar world, and come to feel a stake in the struggles and triumphs of these children and their mentors.

THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY was nationally broadcast in February 2014 as a two-hour CBS News Special “48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City”, hosted by jazz great Wynton Marsalis. I was honored with a 2015 Christopher Award for work that “affirms the highest values of the human spirit”, and was a documentary finalists in the 2015 National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence Awards.


Producer and director: Richard Barber
Co-director and director of photography: Andre Lambertson

Watch the trailer and learn more about the documentary at:


Reactions to The Whole Gritty City:

“Gritty City is glorioius. Alternately joyous and heartbreaking, one moment to the next….THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY understands what ultimately powers New Orleans, and therefore, it champions what the American urban experience offers us all in terms of culture, community and ultimately, meaning.” — David Simon creator of HBO’s “Treme”, “The Wire”, “Show Me A Hero”

“A documentary in the Fred Wiseman mold…sensitive, intelligent and inspirational.” — David Bianculli, “Fresh Air”, NPR
“THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY takes viewers into the heart and soul of New Orleans’s youth marching band community….an inspiring and moving documentary.” — Common Sense Media

“THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY is both a celebratory film…and a very emotional one, an at-times heartbreaking portrait of our at-times heartbreaking city.” — Mike Scott, New Orleans Times Picayune


Richard Barber