The Making Of
Filmmaker Margaret Brown shares her ambivalence about returning to her native Mobile, Alabama to shine a spotlight on the longstanding traditions and unspoken social codes that have developed around the city's annual Mardi Gras event, now over 300 years old.
What led you to make this film?
I was interested in making a film about my mother, a reluctant white Mardi Gras queen in 1966. When I went down to Mobile to research the film, I found that the people there were much more interesting than I could make up. So, I was seduced into making a documentary.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
I was around all the time. And while people are aware that the camera is always there, after a while you become a fixture. Also, I had a very good-natured crew with a good sense of humor, who I think made the subjects feel at ease. Crew is key.
What was it like to reveal stories of your family in the film?
It was extremely difficult; I had many sleepless nights wondering if I was making the right choices. There were a lot of moral decisions involved, particularly in how I wanted to represent my grandfather as well as other members of the community. But, I basically decided to err on the side of the truth. (Though I think truth is a pretty fluid thing.)
Do you see the two Mardi Gras celebrations coming together more in the near future?
I’m not sure. I think it is up to the community. I am not sure that the black Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association (MAMGA) and the white Mobile Carnival Association (MCA) will ever merge, but I think that the more people from these two communities spend time together, the more that anything is possible. There is a lot of curiosity on both sides about what the other side is all about. In addition to race, I think there are a lot of class issues involved that make it even more complicated.
What would you would have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
The LGBT Ball—the Order of Osiris. It was heartbreaking not to include that in the film because the footage was incredible. But it will be on the DVD in an abbreviated form. And a few more moon pie poems will be on there, too.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
I love when the guys from the Mobile Mystics bring Mardi Gras cheer to the nursing home. Often when we were filming the Mobile Mystics, their stuff was so great that we were constantly checking the monitor to make sure that “record” was definitely on.
Were there any technical challenges you faced while shooting, and if so, how did you resolve them?
I believe we were one of the first crews to shoot with the JVC250—we had some problems importing that into the system, which I think have been resolved by JVC. Lots of dropped frames. But I had Ramzi Abed at EVS, Randy Wedick and Bandpro, and Andy Young at DuArt helping me with all technical issues, so I never felt abandoned.
For part of the film, we had three camera crews, so I was not always with a crew when there was a technical issue. So we just had to have good communication—from crews to producers to our tech support.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
The audience response has been really exciting. We have shown the film all over the world and it has started a lot of conversations—and hopefully led to some changes. It’s hard to tell when you are in and out of a city in a night, but in a few towns it seemed like some decision-makers were there and some dialogue got underway in audiences after the screening. I guess we’ll see.
Helen, Joseph, Brittain, Stefannie and Dora presented the film with me at Sundance last year. I think the film was difficult for all of them at first (except Dora), but they have all told me that they think it is truthful. Of course, in the South everyone is taught to be polite, so I hope they actually really think that. We’ve had some pretty frank conversations about the film, so I have to believe that they do.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Adventure. And I love making things. I’m not sure I’ll always be a filmmaker, but I like telling stories, and I like entering a world you know nothing about and figuring out the rules. It’s an addiction that requires infinite patience.
Why did you choose to present you film on public television?
It’s the best and widest TV audience for this film.
Is there anything else you’d like to share in this Q&A?
In every Q&A, someone always asks what the answer was to what a certain older man says at the end. And I’m not telling!
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
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