Deb Cotton’s journey begins, leaving “hard-hearted Hollywood” for New Orleans. As a blogger following the neighborhood club parades, she films life-force rituals with “ a long memory arc,” risen from funerals with music. That’s the tradition carried by Dr. Michael White, famously playing “the widow’s wail” on his reed in slow-tempo marches, then sending up sweet streams for the second-line dancers celebrating the soul’s release.
Deb and Michael take us on a journey into the city’s past.
But when Hurricane Katrina hits, White loses everything in the catastrophic flooding. Michael becomes an Everyman, embodying the resurrection spirit of jazz funerals in his struggle to rebuild. As Cotton’s camera follows second lines in the aching recovery, White searches for his ancestral roots at the dawn of jazz. Stunning sequences of ring dances, the danced-memory of enslaved Africans interweave with the grandeur of European marching bands. With burial pageants a winding mirror on history, the film hits a violent turning point at a parade shooting, sending Deb and Michael into a search for the city’s soul.