“Getting Back to Abnormal,” collaboratively directed by Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, and Paul Stekler, follows the story of Stacy Head, a polarizing white woman who gets elected to the New Orleans city coucil after Katrina. The documentary offers an amusing perspective on race in America and the political dysfunction of New Orleans.
What it’s about: It’s election time in New Orleans, and nothing is what it seems when a polarizing white politician becomes a racial lightning rod.
What else do you want audiences to know about your film? New Orleans is a place that’s always messing with your head, in both good and bad ways. Add in the volatile topic of race and you’ve got a movie that continually plays with your expectations. As filmmakers we’ve always avoided preaching to the choir, and prefer to let the audience draw its own conclusions about the people in our movies. “Getting Back to Abnormal” is about a New Orleans election, which means that everyone watches their own backs and the idea of “good” and “bad” behavior is never very clear. Leave your per-conceived notions at the door and you’ll have a great time!
What’s been your path to filmmaking? The four of us (Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, Paul Stekler) have been working together off and on for a long time. Andy, Louis,and Peter are based in New York City and make very funny docs about important topics like class,sex, and foreign affairs. Paul runs the film dept at UT Austin and makes great docs about politics. Andy, Louis, and Paul first met in New Orleans in the 1980s and collaborated on “Louisiana Boys,” “Raised on Politics,” which was a raucous expose of Bayou State political culture. A few years later, along with Peter, they made a four-hour Peabody Award-winning series for PBS called “Vote For Me,” which was all about America’s election culture. On his own, Paul made “George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire” and “Last Man Standing.” about Texas politics. Louis, Andy, and Peter have shown before at SXSW with their films “People Like Us” (about social class), “Sex: Female” (women talking about their sex lives), “Moms” (women talking about motherhood), and “Small Ball, A Little League Story,” which followed a team all the way to the Little League World Series.
What was your biggest challenge in bringing “Getting Back to Abnormal” to the screen? After Katrina there were a lot of docs shot in New Orleans, some good, some not-so-good, and audiences got a little tired of storm and recovery stories. We’re calling “Getting Back to Abnormal” “the first post-post-Katrina doc” because the storm and its aftermath isn’t central to the action, just a fact of life everyone has already dealt with. So even if people think they’ve seen this story…trust us, they haven’t. It helped that the documentary gods smiled on us and led us to discover two great characters who make the city seem fresh and mysterious all over again: loose-lipped politician Stacy Head and her feisty adviser Barbara Lacen-Keller, a classic Odd Couple.
What’s the film that most inspired you? Our real inspiration was the city itself, which continues to defy expectations. Three of us lived and worked in New Orleans for ten years, and we really wanted to make a film which communicated the love and frustration we have for the place. We also knew we wanted the culture and richness of the place to come across as a backdrop to our political story, and so we sought out appealing local characters who could provide context.
What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film? A lot of post-Katrina docs were made by outsiders who never quite captured the city’s weird DNA. We’d be happy if people came away feeling like they’d spent a weekend in New Orleans hanging out with the locals and getting the inside story.
Indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.
Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.