It’s not often one can buy their way into a filmmaking dynasty on the ground level, but that’s just the opportunity being presented by the Kickstarter campaign for the recent SXSW hit “Tchoupitoulas.”
“The more people we can bring into the family, great,” said Bill Ross, who means it as much literally as figuratively since a pledge of $10,000 will get you a reward of officially becoming a second father or mother to him and his brother Turner.
However, short of adopting the acclaimed fraternal directing duo and see them grow into the second coming of the Maysles, any donation to “Tchoupitoulas” is as safe an investment as there is as I can verify it’s a genuine masterpiece. Like its predecessor “45365,” which was an impressionistic portrait of the Rosses’ hometown in Ohio, “Tchoupitoulas” applies the same poetic treatment to the French Quarter of New Orleans, trailing three brothers through the course of an evening and taking in the sights and sounds of the wild nightlife.
“At its heart, it’s kind of a city symphony,” said Turner Ross of the film. “It’s another place that we have love and an affection for. We’ve had a lifelong relationship with New Orleans at different points in time and the first of those was as little kids. Our main home in Ohio was like a flat, rural area, so to go down to a place like New Orleans and see that kind of world where it’s flamboyant and colorful and musical and visual, it was a place where we had these real surreal childhood experiences. It’s one of the unique places in the world, not just in America and it deserves more than a one-dimensional telling. The impulse was seeing that environment and trying to find that childhood wonder in it.”
They find exactly that through William, an 11-year-old boy who speaks of winning Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants and spending his life after football as either a lawyer or an architect, though for now he’s settles for being the third wheel behind his older brothers Kentrell and Bryan. Remarkably, the Ross brothers were already seven months into shooting before the trio walked past them in a moment Turner calls “pure serendipity.” What followed was pure magic as the boys missed their ferry ride back home and experience all the late night has to offer from fire-breathers, tours through abandoned ships and all that jazz.
Unfortunately, however, it’s the music that has proven to be a stumbling block for a life beyond the festival circuit for “Tchoupitoulas,” which is why the Ross brothers have turned to Kickstarter. Although the unique covers of “The Godfather” theme (on violin) and “Killing Me Softly” (on a recorder) that play throughout the film should fall under the fair use doctrine, the brothers learned the hard way through their first film of the legal grey area that exists.
“It’s not something we wanted to do,” said Turner. “We want to be self-sufficient, but we can’t be. We can self-sufficiently make these films, but on the backend, when you’re talking about that kind of money, there’s no way for us to do it other than to ask for the generosity of the people who believe in what we’re doing.”
That number should be growing, as well as their confidence, after another successful showing at SXSW this year. Already, the brothers have the raw material in the can for their next film, an untitled film set in the West Texas border town of Eagle Pass, though like “Tchoupitoulas” a year ago, they’ve been so busy putting the finishing touches on their last project they’ve yet to edit their next one.
“They’re all part of something,” Turner said, of the brothers’ snapshots of places they’ve been. “It’s a continuing conversation that we’re having in these images, in these hour-and-a-half episodes. And the next conversation will be pretty interesting.”