Fifteen directors and one concept are packed into the cinematic love song to New Orleans, Where Y’at (hello).
Echoing the communal spirit that helped produce Louisiana’s entry into last year’s Oscar race, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Timecode:NOLA, a New Orleans filmmaker collective, assigned specific street corners throughout the city to specific directors. In the space of three weeks, the moviemakers wrote, shot and edited five-minute films that reflect the various neighborhoods.
The results are, inevitably, mixed, but the flavor of the city, from accents to attitudes, is distilled. Most of all, Where Y’at (hello), true to the colloquial greeting that serves as its title, depicts pairs of local people making connections in ways that might never happen in a city other than New Orleans.
The regionalism that fills the movie’s stories is one of its strengths and weaknesses. Local color is great, but not at the expense of non-local moviegoers losing interest in this large collection of local characters. Sometimes the stories and people are less cute, endearing or amusing than the filmmakers believe them to be.
Each film is titled after a street corner. In one of Where Y’at (hello)’s more fragmentary entries, “Dauphine & Mandeville,” writer-director Michael Yusko uses his five minutes for a whimsical account of a rather frantic young man who gets coffee, bets on the Saints and clandestinely retrieves his dog from an ex-girlfriend.
“Spruce & Dante” puts a local spin on an old tale. Mr. Al (Bob Edes Jr.), a landlord, has an apartment to rent in the Garden District. He gets mightily annoyed when potential tenants from out of town keep asking him if the neighborhood is safe.
From a story standpoint, “Spruce & Dante” satisfies more than several of the other films. Mortality, after all, has an unavoidable finality about it.
A number of the films feature young men and women on the cusp of relationships. That’s a good hook. Will the talented young trumpet player-street performer who sees the same lovely young lady every day ever find the courage to approach her?
In the impressionistic “Ursulines & Decatur,” the smitten musician tells a friend: “There’s something about her. She’s perfect.” His unspoken desire plays out as Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” wafts through the soundtrack.
“Franklin & Dauphine” presents a mini-documentary, voiceover narration included, about the history of a bar sign. It’s well done, but also among Where Y’at (hello)’s more insular offerings. Maybe only a local can grasp, appreciate or find the story all that interesting.
While some of these vignettes tend to be banal, “Washington & Annunciation” features an imaginatively set encounter between a young woman whose pet, Roger, has been a patient at an animal hospital for weeks, and a hospital staff member. It’s easily Where Y’at (hello)’s most touching entry and, coming late in the film as it does, worth the wait.