Lisa Katzman is a journalist, filmmaker, and screenwriter. As a writer, Katzman has contributed to many film projects, including the PBS mini-series, The Promised Land, Kartemquin Films’ Golub, and Amos Gitai’s Eden.
Ms. Katzman has written about film, culture, food,
pornography, and the environment for numerous publications including:
The New York Times, The Village Voice, Film Comment, Interview, Los Angles Times, Penthouse, Playboy, and Chicago Reader.
She has taught screenwriting and film courses at Bard College, Graduate Film Program of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Tulane University. She has also conduced screenwriting workshops for the Woodstock Film Festival.
Katzman’s screenplay, Rachel And Gerard, an interracial romance set in the art world of Chicago, is slated for direction by Charles Burnett. Two other screenplays: Tamar's Tale about a young woman who comes to work in a most unusual peep show; and Ruthie's Hair, a story about the friendship of two young women, one of whom develops leukemia, while the other is drawn more deeply into the anti-war movement of the late 60s are in pre-production. Currently, Katzman is producing and directing two documentaries. Flamencos: Aqui Y Alli focuses on the cultural history of Flamenco music and dance in Andalucia; and A Tale of Two Cities: Post-9/11 and Katrina explores the environmental degradation caused by 9/11 and hurricane Katrina, as well as the grassroots environmental groups fighting for residents in each city.
Though the culture of the Mardi Gras Indians is unique to New Orleans, like jazz — which grows out the same soil of Congo Square— it is also quintessentially American. It is a fantastical, imaginative merging of Native American and African traditions including, beading, drumming, and ancestor worship. Beginning in the late nineteenth-century, under Jim Crow law, Mardi Gras Indians answered white supremacy and racist exclusion with a spirit of inclusiveness. Over time they embraced, for instance, the Sicilian festival of St. Joseph (the patron Saint of the poor), and made it their own.
It is tempting for modern “rootless cosmopolitans” to romanticize traditional cultures, to imagine that the passing of the baton from one generation to the next is a graceful and seamless act of transmission. But of course traditional cultures are as fraught with intergenerational tension as any other social arrangement. Making Tootie’s Last Suit vividly brought home the realization that all cultural traditions are larger than the flawed personalities that create them. I believe the film reveals how one purpose of our distinctly human genius for creating art and culture is to hold our humbling contradictions, and perhaps render them not only bearable, but also beautiful. The father-son rivalry and displays of ego that emerge in the story may seem at odds with, but don’t diminish the larger values of Mardi Gras Indian culture—which are enduringly spiritual, anti-commercial, and community-based. It is these values that Chief Tootie Montana represented for over fifty years, and which his heirs, notably his son Chief Darryl Montana, and Chief Victor “FiYiYi” Harris, stand for in post-Katrina New Orleans.
While the media continues to spotlight New Orleans’ post-Katrina crime rate and economic stagnation, it is the Mardi Gras Indians and the broader African-American parading culture that continue to keep the lifeblood of New Orleans pulsing, by keeping faith with this city’s extraordinary legacy. In the face of the “Road Home” program that moves at a snail’s pace and has earned the moniker “The Roadblock Home", and the shameful de facto lock-out of the city’s public housing residents, followed by the recent and more scandalous demolition of their homes, the spiritual power of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indian culture is ever more crucial to those who have managed to make it back home. As this culture steadfastly practices its vibrant traditions, it actively renews and helps to heal the people of New Orleans, and the city itself. If or when, New Orleans is ever lost—to another hurricane, the alarming rate of wetland erosion, or to wrong-headed development and abject greed—this surely will spell the death of a very precious part of our nation’s soul. If that eventuality should ever occur, it seems unimaginable that this culture, as brilliantly inventive and resilient as it is, won’t still go on —beading new suits, playing old songs, forever telling its story and re-making beauty.
Read the Lisa Katzman
interview with Offreeler. Read
Listen to the Interview with Dick Gordon on his radio show The Story on NPR: Listen
Lisa Katzman with Darryl and Joyce
Montana, Mardi Gras day 2007