Film Screening & Discussion
City of a Million Dreams: Parading for the Dead in New Orleans
In-person at MoAD
Jun 8, 2024
2:00 pm
5:00 pm
Free Admission
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Help us celebrate Juneteenth with a film screening & discussion of City of a Million Dreams: Parading for the Dead in New Orleans, a documentary by New Orleans-based filmmaker, author and journalist Jason Berry.

A live round table discussion will follow this screening with the film's chief protagonist, the esteemed New Orleans musician and educator Dr. Michael White. Jason Berry will join the discussion remotely from New Orleans. The screening and discussion will be in conjunction with MoAD's Juneteenth Celebration. 

About the Film

Famous the world over, jazz funerals have origins shrouded in mystery. Filmed over twenty-two years, City of a Million Dreams explores race relations at a tearing time in American society. Burial traditions train a lens on the unique and resilient culture of New Orleans. City of a Million Dreams draws from the 2018 book of the same title by Jason Berry.

Deb Cotton, an African American and observant Jew, leaves “hard-hearted Hollywood” for New Orleans, and becomes a chronicler of the parading clubs spawned by 19th century burial societies. Her zeal for the city grows as she becomes a blogger for Gambit Weekly, adopting the handle “Big Red Cotton.” As Deb explores her adopted culture, Dr. Michael White, a prolific clarinetist and New Orleans native, plays “the widow’s wail” on his clarinet, a cry of lamentation in the funeral marches.

White’s transcendent music also includes joyous peals for the soul’s cutting-loose, which happens when the band leaves the cemetery, followed by dancers in what New Orleanians call “the second line.” Risen in the ranks of brass bands, White, too, is on a journey of self-discovery, seeking clues about his ancestor who played at the dawn of jazz. White says of jazz funerals: “For someone dealing with American racism and trying to figure out your place in this life . . . you can be transformed into another world that really sets you free.”

Jason Berry

Image credit: Owen Murphy, Jr.

City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300 (2018) was Jason Berry’s tenth book and the basis for the companion documentary film he produced, "City of a Million Dreams - Parading for the Dead In New Orleans."

“His optimism, a faith of sorts, is grounded in the very story he tells,” Larry Blumenfeld wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “of a city still defined by ‘pageantries and memory rituals of its varied people’ and’ ‘where people of different colors and cultures have daily interactions as they have done for generations.’ His book, an indispensable history, explains both what we might take care not to lose and why it’s so easy to believe it will always be so.”

Berry is a distinguished author and investigative journalist based in New Orleans. He has done extensive reporting on the crisis in the Catholic Church in many articles, an award-winning documentary, "Vows of Silence," and three books. "Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church" received the Investigative Reporters and Editors 2011 Book Award. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Alicia Patterson foundations.

Dr. Michael White

Image credit: Braden Piper

Dr. Michael White is among the most visible and important New Orleans musicians today.

Michael White is distinguished as a New Orleans-style clarinetist and composer, writing and recording songs that rejuvenate the classic idiom. His stream of compositions compete with the works of the great ghosts, Satchmo, Jelly, Sidney Bechet. Dr. White is also noted for his classic New Orleans jazz clarinet sound, for leading several popular bands, and for his many efforts to preserve and extend the early jazz tradition. Dr. White is a relative of early generation jazz musicians, including bassist Papa John Joseph, clarinetist Willie Joseph, and saxophonist and clarinetist Earl Fouche.

White is also a jazz historian, producer, lecturer, and consultant. He has developed and performed many jazz history themed programs. He has written and published numerous essays in books, journals, and other publications. For the last several years he has been a guest coach at the Juilliard Music School(Juilliard Jazz). He was the musical director for several Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts. He has been the traditional jazz consultant/coordinator for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival since 1995. White has also had a long association of performing and recording with acclaimed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

This program is presented in conjunction with Thrive@MoAD, a community free day made possible by the generous support of Kaiser Permanente and Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.

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