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Loyola University New Orleans hosts special screening of long-lost documentary about famed Mardi Gras Indian Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana

By Loyola University on Fri, 12/08/2023 - 15:10

The School of Communication and Design is honored to present a documentary lost since Hurricane Katrina showcasing the life and artistry of the late Allison “Tootie” Montana, who led the Yellow Pocahontas Black Masking Indians as its big chief for 50 years.

Students in Will Horton’s documentary filmmaking class will host the event, which will take place Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in Nunemaker Auditorium, in the Monroe Science Complex. A panel discussion with the filmmakers will follow.

Horton directed the documentary, “Testimony of a Big Chief,” as a young filmmaker, and it screened as part of an exhibit about Tootie in 1997 at the New Orleans Museum of Art. However, the film’s producers feared the original footage lost forever to the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Horton said.

The public had not seen the documentary in 25 years when the producers, Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, stumbled upon a DVD of the completed film in 2022 and had it digitally remastered, he said. Horton said he decided to create a learning environment around the film by integrating it into his documentary class. 

“I want to connect Loyola to the heart of the city – this culture,” Horton said, noting that the school brought Flagboy Giz, a musician and Wild Tchoupitoulas Black Masking Indian, to speak about the vibrant Mardi Gras Indian culture and perform at a colloquium of film and music students in the fall. “This got the students interested in the local culture.”

The students will introduce the 30-minute documentary at the event and then moderate a Q&A session with panelists including Calhoun and McCormick; Willie Birch, a longtime friend of Tootie’s who is interviewed in the film; and, Darryl Montana, Tootie’s son and successor, following in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps.

The students will record and archive the panel discussion, and then will study the film and those firsthand accounts during the class, which will take place during the spring semester, Horton said. 

And, of course, those taking the class will have the opportunity to learn what it was like to make the film directly from the filmmaker, who interviewed Tootie as he was preparing for his 50th Mardi Gras masking event.

“I had the chance to peek into a world that I didn’t have access to,” Horton said, noting that the documentary reflects a unique New Orleans culture and illustrates an integral part of Louisiana folklife. “To be able to sit down at Tootie’s kitchen table was inspiring. I saw these beautiful costumes he was making, and the passing of the guard to his son – the monarchy story intrigued me as much as the rest.”

The event is open and free to the public, but seating is limited. Reserve a seat here.