New Orleans Film Festival – Opening Night and LBJ

Opening Night and LBJ

Gary Grubbs and Richard Schiff

Gary Grubbs and Richard Schiff

Last night, Crimespree took its place on the red carpet and welcomed the stars, patrons, and hosts of the 27th annual New Orleans Film Festival.  Gary Grubbs, James Marsden, Richard Schiff, and Rob Reiner all took the walk down the red carpet to open the festival and attend the US premiere of LBJ.  All those walking expressed their love for filming in Louisiana, particularly Reiner who shot much of LBJ here and plans to film much of his next feature here as well.

The movie focused on LBJ’s career from senate majority leader to taking the presidency and fulfilling JFK’s vision for an Equal Rights Act.  Woody Harrelson stars as the 36th president as he battles with Robert Kennedy and struggles to bring the mentality of the old southern democrats in line with the new vision of the future.  The actor brings an interesting combination of humor, weakness, and determination to the president.

Director Rob Reiner

Director Rob Reiner

As a snapshot of the president’s life, Reiner paints a surprisingly delicate and relate-able portrait  of Johnson.  He heightens the tension between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy each moment until a brilliant climax in the Oval Office that makes you truly feel for Johnson and hate Bobby Kennedy just a bit.  If that isn’t a testament to Harrelson’s acting talent I don’t know what is.

Following the movie was a brief Q and A with Reiner and Harrelson, giving an insight into why these two might want to do a movie about Johnson.  After all, there is hardly a more outspoken anti-Vietnam voice than Reiner and no one more responsible for the war than Johnson.  In the interview, Reiner noted that he views Johnson as a sort of “Shakesperian” character, powerful yet weak, wonderful yet terrible.  He even went so far as to say that LBJ may have been considered the greatest modern day president had it not been for the war in Vietnam.  He dragged the southern democrats into the 20th century and began programs like Medicare and Medicaid that are so vital to our society now.

Harrelson was particularly dedicated to portraying LBJ accurately.  He is one of the first presidents who had been recorded on so many media outlets and so often, though Vietnam is certainly part of that.  During the 2 hours a day it took for Woody to get into makeup, he was constantly listening to those recordings to capture the tenor and rhythm of the president’s speech.  This lends immediate credence to his presence on film and allows Harrelson to fully embody the controversial president at his best and worst at the same time.

 

Woody Harrelson and Rob Reiner interviewed

Woody Harrelson and Rob Reiner interviewed

All in all, this was an amazing way to open the festival, culminating in a second line parade after the movie premiere.  In typical New Orleans fashion, the festival is sure to celebrate all the facets of this amazing art form and the people who are so integral to it.  After all, the film industry brings billions of dollars per year to our city in everything from shooting locations, to the mom and pop shop that sells screws to the set builders, to the restaurants and food trucks who feed everyone on set.  If this was any indication, there is so much more to come and I cannot wait!

-Bryan VanMeter

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