Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story, a documentary about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, will be released nationwide on June 2. The film was directed and produced by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern and will be released through Sony Pictures.

Suffern is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to pursue filmmaking. He cut his teeth in the business working as an on-set P.A.

“It was an all-hands-on-deck sort of film school for me,” Suffern said. “I got to learn how movies are made and on-set production. I started gravitating towards wanting to be a director or producer.”

After working closely with Steven Spielberg as his on-set production assistant, Suffern learned the ins and outs of the business firsthand.

He explained, “I had the opportunity to see how movies were made in both the development process and in the post process. To that point the bulk of my experience had just been physical production.”

As a production assistant for Spielberg, he had the unique opportunity to use a handheld camera to document the director making movies. Suffern considers this experience his introduction to documentary filmmaking.

His footage was used in the DVD “behind the scenes” footage of movies such as War of the Worlds and Munich and this experience afforded Suffern to see his camerawork in action and provide a firsthand education on how the entire film process works.

Suffern is a fan of music and is no stranger to producing documentaries on musicians. With credits under his belt, such as The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, McCartney 3,2,1, and Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name, he knew that bringing the story of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to the big screen was a perfect fit.

Frank Marshall is an award-winning producer of such films as Paper Moon, The Sixth Sense, and Diana. Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story results from the desire to document one of the nation’s biggest music and culture festivals on a special anniversary.

“The idea started as a conversation between Quint Davis, Frank Marshall, and Jimmy Buffet, who has played the fest for decades,” Suffern explained. “They wanted to do something special for the festival’s 50th anniversary and we wanted to capture it as best as we could.”

The documentary features performances and interviews from Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Big Freedia, Jimmy Buffet, Tom Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Irma Thomas, and many others.

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story premiered at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin in March and is currently playing a limited release in New York and Los Angeles; the film will be released nationwide on June 2.

The film is a deep dive not only into the history of Jazz Fest, but into the culture of New Orleans itself. Suffern said that he knows that the film will resonate among New Orleans locals and is excited for people who attend Jazz Fest, or those who haven’t had the opportunity, to see it.

“We wanted to make sure that we did right in telling the story for a New Orleans crowd,” he said. “Jazz Fest is about so much more than music. We really wanted to acknowledge the ‘heritage’ part of the festival, as well—that’s really the bedrock of the fest. We wanted to pay homage to Louisiana and the city of New Orleans and use the festival as the foundation for the story.”

The film was shot on IMAX cameras, and Suffern is excited for audiences to see the movie on the big screen with surround sound. He wants it to be an authentic experience.

“We want to bring Jazz Fest to those who can’t get to Jazz Fest,” he said. “Jazz Fest is considered one of the greatest festivals in the world and I certainly think that it lives up to that reputation.”

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