In the past few years, Brandan Odums has become something of a household name in New Orleans. The artist is best known for his larger-than-life murals, projecting his desire for social justice through brightly colored spray paintings of subjects like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.
Odums first became famous for his “socially responsible graffiti,” as he calls it, with the creation of ProjectBE, a grand masterpiece featuring Civil Rights heroes he stealthily sketched on walls of the old Florida housing development, before it was torn down.
Since then, Odums’ art has won accolades from critics, transformed blight around the city and attracted thousands into underused spaces for events like ExhibitBE, a long-anticipated follow-up to ProjectBE that was once dubbed “the largest single-site street art exhibit in the American South.”
As a visual artist, Odums is a local star. But before he turned to street art, his first love was film — which is why he says he jumped at the chance to create art for this year’s New Orleans Film Festival. Odums has made both a mural and a promotional film for the festival, which is set to open Oct. 14 at The Orpheum Theater with the screening of “Born to be Blue,” starring Ethan Hawke as a character resembling jazz musician Chet Baker.
“My background is in film, and the majority of my creative life has been in that space,” Odums said. “So when they reached out, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to blend the two loves of my life: visual arts and filmmaking.”
Before turning to graffiti, Odums made award-winning documentaries and produced music videos for New Orleans artists such as Trombone Shorty and Mannie Fresh. He briefly had his own television show, and his work has appeared on PBS and MTV.
Now, he’s create a cinema-themed mural on the side of the future building for The New Orleans Advocate, at 840 St. Charles Ave. Four images from the piece will be used as covers of this year’s Film Festival program guide.
The piece extends about 10 feet tall and 35 feet wide and was done in the traditional wheat paste style used by commercial posters since the 19th century.
It features a mashup of Louisiana-based movie images in the background and New Orleans-based audiences, who appear to be reacting to a playing film, in the foreground.
Although the work is commercial, not an underground exhibit, and appears in a more populated part of the city than some of his previous pieces, Odums says the new piece isn’t a departure from his usual style.
“It still speaks to what art can do,” Odums said about the mural, which is done in his signature portraiture technique and highlights local members of the film community.
“Everyone doesn’t have the privilege of having their portrait painted. Historically, it was reserved for rich and famous.
“I like that I get to push everyday people, making everyone feel like a star.”
Faces that only locals would know appear in the piece, including Lucy Macedo, a Film Society volunteer, and Cy Augustine, a neighbor to the festival’s director of programming.
Other subjects include Jack Forbes and Brian Bockman, New Orleans Film Society supporters, and Nicole Robinson, Odums’ manager.
Donna Duplantier, who has appeared in films like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” is also on the mural, as is Laura Cayouette, known for her work in “Django Unchained” and “Enemy of the State.”
“We had an idea to showcase some local actors who, you know, have achieved some great success due to the film industry being here,” said Jolene Pinder, executive director of the New Orleans Film Society. “We could have picked more famous folks who have ties to New Orleans, but we wanted to pick people who are really in the community and represent it.”
The mural also highlights four movie posters from films shot in Louisiana: “Easy Rider,” “Satchmo the Great,” “Louisiana Story” and “Panic in the Streets.” Although Odums has in recent years turned down video work to focus on his visual art, he says the job for the New Orleans Film Society has inspired him to get back into that kind of work.
In the pipeline is a documentary about the creation of ProjectBE and the other installations that morphed out of it.
Odums has plans for a third “BE” installation — “the end of the ‘BE’ trilogy,” which he said he might start as soon as next year. He plans to film its creation — as he’s done for ProjectBE and ExhibitBE — and edit it all together as a documentary about making socially responsible street art.
“I’m constantly shooting and editing stuff about my work, and I have tons and tons of footage, all the way from the beginning,” Odums said. “Who knows? Maybe it could even appear sometime in the film festival.”