by Mel Fenson
Three years after Katrina, New Orleans, a nearly forgotten American city, strives to recover from the disaster that brought it to ruin. Ghosts of its glorious past haunt what remains of the broken city. Although so much of New Orleans was washed away, the lively spirit of New Orleans jazz still survives and its unsinkable sound is rebounding once again in the gas-lit streets of its old French Quarter and throughout the city.
The Sound After The Storm, an award winning documentary film directed by Ryan Fenson-Hood, Patrik Soergel, and Sven O. Hill portrays the ongoing crisis in New Orleans after Katrina and follows three New Orleans personalities - Lillian Boutté, a jazz singer, Dr. Michael White, a renowned jazz clarinetist, composer and teacher, and Armand “Sheik” Richards, a documentary photographer, who has photographed most of the important New Orleans jazz musicians over the past 50 years - as they lead the effort to fight the adversity brought on by the hurricane and restore the city’s image, dignity and sound. The film won “Best Documentary” at the 2009 Zurich Film Festival.
The idea for the film originated, when co-director, Patrik Soergel, who lives in Locarno, Switzerland, spoke to Armand “Sheik” Richards, after he had presented a photo exhibition about New Orleans, during a jazz festival in Ascona, Switzerland in 2007. Patrik asked him what he thought about making a documentary about New Orleans and its jazz scene after Katrina. Sheik said he thought it was a great idea. Patrik discussed the idea with Ryan, who at first didn’t want to do the film because he thought Katrina had been over publicized. However, at the time, he didn’t realize how bad the post Katrina situation was. After Patrik contacted a big Swiss production house and sparked their interest in being involved in the project, Ryan decided to, “give it a try.” Then he and Patrik traveled to New Orleans to explore possibilities for the film. When they arrived there, “Sheik” introduced them to Michael White, a clarinetist and one of the foremost jazz historians in New Orleans, and to Lillian Boutté, one of New Orleans’ most famous jazz singers. After becoming acquainted with them, it was decided that they would become the film’s main characters and relate the story of the rebirth of jazz in New Orleans after Katrina.
Following the trip to New Orleans, Patrik succeeded in obtaining primary funding for the film through the swiss production company Ventura Film and Radio Television Switzerland Italian - RTSI in Lugano, Switzerland, where he works as a film editor and director. The German funding was later arranged by the film team's cinematographer, Sven O. Hill, who with the help of another German producer, Dirk Manthey, was able to get funding from two German film funds.
Ryan said the film was in production for nearly three years. He said the first six months was spent researching the situation in New Orleans, checking out filming locations and meeting with the lead characters. The following two-and- a-half years were then spent planning and scripting the film, then shooting and editing it.
Primary filming was done on location in New Orleans. Lillian Boutté and Michael White were also filmed in performance at the big Ascona Jazz Festival in Switzerland and while on tour at other Jazz festivals in Germany and Switzerland.
“The biggest problem we faced,” Ryan commented, “was the fact that we were making a film about the impact of a dramatic incident, which we did not directly witness. This posed a significant story telling problem. Our film was about what happened after Katrina. Because we didn’t want to recount something that had already been well publicized, it was difficult to produce a documentary that would bring something that had happened in the past into the present and be able to generate new interest and hold audience attention. So our focus was on how the disaster affected New Orleans, what people lost, and how the people in New Orleans have attempted to recover the sound of jazz after Katrina - an effort seen through the eyes of the main characters in our film.”
“Since we came into the story with no preconceptions and didn’t know anything about New Orleans when we first started,” Ryan continued, “ we handed the stage over to the lead personalities and just let them have control over the message. We let them guide the entire film, and just documented their story. They were given the stage to express their thoughts and feelings, which resulted in a candid, authentic film about the flood and its consequences, and about what is now happening in New Orleans.”
“We edited the film in Locarno, Switzerland, where our co-director, Patrik Soergel lives, and in Ascona, because our main producers were located there.” Ryan added.
“Our film was entered in the Zurich Film Festival because they invited us to enter it. They called us right after we had just finished the editing,” Ryan related. He continued, “We went into this festival without any expectations to win. When you do a documentary you don’t really know whether it’s going to go anywhere - so we were really happy to have the opportunity to compete.”
“We had three screenings in Zurich,” Ryan said. “Ours was one of nine documentaries entered in the competition. People said they really liked the film. 100 to130 people attended each screening, and during the screenings, people were really engaged and emotional. They cried and laughed and got excited. The audience really appreciated the way we handled the subject; people commented that we were very delicate and compassionate in our portrayal of the characters and the city. They said they were touched and surprised to discover how bad the situation is in New Orleans and the fact that New Orleans is still at risk every year for a new hurricane.” Ryan emphasized, “That critical fact is really key to our message to the public, because every year at the end of the summer or beginning of fall, New Orleans, one of the oldest and richest cultures in America, is at risk of being hit by another hurricane and going under water again. The city needs government assistance to revamp the entire levy system to provide protection from the Gulf of Mexico.”
The biggest highlight at the
festival,” Ryan commented, “was when we actually won the International
documentary competition. A week after being in Zurich,” he recalled,
“we were all sitting in this fancy theatre, when suddenly they called
our names. We had won the film competition for documentaries! We were amazed!
That’s when we realized why we had been seated in the front row. When
we got to the stage, we were presented with the impressive Golden Eye trophy
for winning “Best Documentary.” After we won, we sat back down
in the front row and passed the beautiful trophy around to our team members
and to my mom was there with us.” Ryan added, “The award remained
in Locarno, Switzerland with Patrik, because he initiated the documentary
project. Our film team has an agreement that after every festival we will
alternate who gets to keep any awards we win, and hopefully we are going to
receive more awards for future films we produce.”
Ryan described, the Zurich Film Festival as, “a super glamorous and fancy event,” and said, “there were a lot of big stars there and a lot of really interesting events were held.” He said, “Filmmakers were able to meet all the stars in small film seminars, which is where I met Michael Keaton and Peter Fonda.” He also noted, “We were on stage with Morgan Freeman, who received a lifetime film achievement award.” He remarked, “Although this was only the 5th year of the festival, it had the feel of a major festival. The main event where we were announced as winners was held in a huge - maybe 1,000 seat theatre. There was an impressive black- tie cocktail party before the main ceremony began and a formal dinner was held after the ceremony, followed by a party that evening. Lots of stars were in attendance and our pictures were taken standing on a red carpet."
When asked about future film plans, Ryan replied, “We are planning some future films and I am currently directing a couple of commercial projects in New York. However, in the future, I want to direct feature fiction films, along with my co-directors, Sven and Patrik.”
Co-Director, Ryan Fenson-Hood’s work has been broadcast on The Sundance Channel and MTV2, seen in dozens of film festivals, including Tribeca IFF, and distributed internationally on DVD by Zeitgeist and Netflix. He is based in New York City. He attended FAMU film school in Prague, and then established residence in New York City in 2002, where he has been a freelance editor. He has edited films for a number of corporations and media, including Niki, The Wall Street Journal, and television channels. He has also produced his own short films and documentaries. Prior to directing "The Sound After The Storm," he co-directed, “The Return of the Nina,” a ski film which won a number of awards. He edited a full feature, award-winning documentary, “The Mother Project,” which was aired on the Sundance channel. He also edited and co-produced “Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House,” a documentary about a noted fashion designer, which was also aired on the Sundance Channel. Ryan can be reached at: email@example.com
Co-Director, Patrik Soergel, who is based in Locarno, Switzerland, was graduated from the European Film College in Denmark, where he studied directing, editing and producing. He also studied directing and scriptwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts for Film, TV and Photo (FAMU) in Prague. He has edited and directed a variety of short films and documentaries, including “The Legacy of Silence - 52,” a documentary about the past and present lives of the Aramaean people, an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey, which he co-directed and edited in 2009. His work has been presented in international film festivals and aired on European television stations. Patrik currently works as a film editor and director for Swiss Public TV (RSI) Radio Televisione Svizzera, and he has worked as a freelance director for several well-known independent Swiss companies, including Pic Film, Ventura Film and Amka Films. Patrik can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Director and Cinematographer, Sven O. Hill studied film at the Hamburg Media School and at FAMU film school in Prague. It was there that became associated with Patrik Soergel and Ryan Fenson-Hood. Included among the many films he has worked on besides "The Sound After The Storm," are "The Return," a documentary - as co-director, cinematographer and co-producer; "Dok Leipzig," and "American Dance Festival." Among his current cinematography projects is, "Next Door Paradise," directed by Jürgen Brügger and Jörg Haaßengier; and Filmtank, Hamburg, ZDF Das kleine Fernsehspiel. He was nominated with Kopfende Haßloch (Mapping the German) for the highly acknowledged Deutscher Kamerapreis (German Cinematography Award) for Best Cinematography, category Documentary Film in 2006. Sven can be reached at: email@example.com
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