Tonight we went to see the premiere of By Invitation Only , a documentary by Rebecca Snedeker. The film offers a view into her life as a member of New Orleans society which keeps secret rituals of the Mardi Gras alive.
She was born into this tribe (as it is referred to by a member interviewed in the movie), and was expected to become a debutante and a queen of a Mardi Gras krewe, as was her mother and grandmother before her. But she came of age to be presented just as the issues of krewe membership exclusion, based on race and religion, were confronted by the public. Three krewes refused to march when ordered to integrate.
As a stand against this aspect of the rituals, Rebecca decided not to debut and to bow out of the other traditional ceremonies and roles that she had romanticized as a child.
Because her family has been a solid part of society and has helped sustain it since the Louisiana Purchase, Rebecca was allowed to record aspects of carnival that few outsiders have witnessed. The film follows the life of a debutante and Mardi Gras queen, as Rebecca thinks through the conflict of her love for this tradition and her repulsion for the underlying exclusivity.
The documentary was terrific and Rebecca brought up her questions, both through narration and through interviews, with a respect and subtlety that encourages the audience to think. Despite this, her opinions are clear, but so is her confusion, as she is drawn to the powerfully fantastic life of the New Orleans Mardi Gras society. Watching her flip through the photo books and touch the crown and sceptor of her family, one is reminded of the depth and reach carnival has over this city and how the shadows of its past have not lifted entirely.
Yet we love the revelry.
It took Rebecca seven years to finish this project. During the question and answer period of the premier, she was asked how she felt about releasing this movie now, post-Katrina. She said she was conflicted about the release of the movie right after the storm, especially as she was editing scenes of the city without knowing what her city even would look like after the storm. Further, she wondered if it would even be appropriate to ask such questions "while we were down," as she put it.
When she returned to New Orleans she realized that many people were asking themselves the question: What am I DOING here? If I am staying here, committing to New Orleans, what am I going to DO here? Many around her were reconsidering the roles they play in life: would the city move on without us? Does the city need us?
Ultimately, Rebecca decided that it was alright to ask these questions, and that her role was to finish the documentary and to present it to the public-this is what she would DO.
I am glad she did.