_NOFS spoke to a Emerging Voices Filmmaker Brian Nelson about the upcoming screening and fundraiser of his film Hail to the Queens.
Brian, how did you begin this documentary production about Mardi Gras Indian Queens?
Hail to the Queens is inspired by a museum exhibit “Queens Rule” that my mom and grandmother curated back in 2009. The museum exhibit was the first of its kind that explored the lives of Black Indian Queens of NOLA.
Your film’s cast include black women within New Orleans trying to help their own communities. Did these women rise up in a patriarchal group out of necessity, or was this challenge placed on them?
Much of their responsibilities to empower themselves and their communities are direct responses to dire circumstances that effect underserved minority’s neighborhoods worldwide. Also, as Queens and leaders within the culture, they have a responsibility to protect the young people of the tradition and community, so I sense much of their responsibilities are placed on them by their culture.
How have these communities influenced your storytelling as a filmmaker?
One of the reasons I became a filmmaker was to help provide voices to disenfranchised people who normally would not have a voice. The purpose is bringing positive change to the masses, especially people of underserved communities. I keep this notion at the forefront of my filmmaking whenever I approach a Big Chief Brian original film.
Do you believe the Mardi Gras Indian Queens are beneficial to more than just their communities? Do you see a progression or movement coming from their influence and teachings?
Our Queens do not subscribe to Western standards of beauty. They create their own definition of beauty and live by it with each fiber of their souls through their hand sewn ritual regalia. They are Queens of the tradition and Queens of the world. It’s in their talk, walk, dress, and actions towards others. I hope young girls take from our Black Indian Queens that they are beautiful and royal queens no matter what society, media, or even family may say. Your beauty and royal status is defined by you. Believe in it, and own it with the way you live your life and carry yourself.
What sort of documentary film techniques did you use while editing or shooting? Why did you use those techniques?
For this film, I spoke through the lens straight from the heart much like the way I sew my Indian Suits or create music. It was soul food on film. I went with my gut feeling in the process while using techniques I learned through professional and scholarly film experiences.
How did you manage picking out the best raw footage? How did you decide what shots should be used?
I collaborated with my editor Ken Eng and producer Marques Miles to choose which shots looked the best. They are not from NOLA. They are colleagues of mine who live in Los Angeles. Having absolutely no previous experience with this culture, they helped me see things from an outsiders perspective.
Were there any story changes that happened while filming? Did the production change course because of other unforeseen events?
Yes, in the middle of our production an elder Mardi Gras Indian member passed who was a childhood mentor of mine. His name was Theodore “Goodie” Goodman of the Flaming Arrows. This rocked the worlds of the Flaming Arrows and Indian Nation in general. Our Queens of my documentary and myself had to do ceremonial ritual at his funeral in addition to the fact that they all grieved for him during our shoot. We as a film crew shot unexpected scenes of the grieving process with Goodie’s family and Indian Gang which I and the queens we’re apart of. I truly had to find balance as a filmmaker and on screen participant.
Do you think documentary filmmakers are motivated to influence change?
Yes, because documentaries are real life. Documentary filmmakers we have a responsibility to encourage positive growth through our documentation due to the fact that you never know who’s life could be saved and changed due to real life experiences that is explored via your film.
Will you continue working on documentaries, or will you expand your filmmaking palette?
A close personal mentor by the name of Jonathan Demme made me promise him that I’d never become a Documentary Filmmaker as I graduated from USC film school. The reason being is that doc filmmakers don’t make much income. However, this particular subject matter was a spiritual calling for me that I could no longer deny. It’s my family’s history. I will continue to make docs that only speak to my heart. I am in the preproduction phase of filming Keeper of the Flame as a feature film from its original 30 minute format. It is the first scripted film about the Indian Tradition. I hope to expand my palate of films as soon as I complete Keeper of the Flame next year. Lastly, look out for my new album which is coming Mardi Gras 2017. It’s the first ever Mardi Gras Indian Rap Album which has a cinematic aspect to it that includes narrative music videos that explore the culture of Mardi Gras Indians and politics of New Orkeans and worldwide.
**RSVP to Hail to the Queens.