Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, audience-less musicians and festivals have turned to streaming performances. But Henry Turner Jr. — the Baton Rouge musician, venue owner and festival organizer — has taken the streaming thing bold steps further.
Rather than simply webcast performances into an online vacuum, he produced a documentary film about the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Festival, an event he founded in 2014.
“We’re Going Down to the Mardi Gras” is available at Play2Fund.com through Feb. 16. Turner narrates the film, which combines footage from the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Festival’s first seven years with the event’s origins and behind-the-scenes workings.
Turner usually begins planning the next Mardi Gras Festival immediately after the conclusion of the previous festival. Following the 2020 festival, he set about preparing the way for this year's festival by contacting city officials.
“They were like, 'Ah, I don’t know, Henry,'" Turner remembered. "'We better hold off and see how things are going. The pandemic is spreading and we don’t know how far it’s going to go.'"
Seeing the writing on the wall, Turner contacted his festival production team. He asked them to begin gathering film footage from past Baton Rouge Mardi Gras festivals, the idea being that the 2021 festival would be a virtual presentation. By mid-March, in lieu of an in-person event, Turner had committed to producing a documentary film that celebrates the festival’s history.
“This is not going away, this is not going to be OK,” Turner remembers thinking. “So, I better plan to be ready for a virtual situation. When everybody started canceling their parades and all of their other stuff, we had our documentary ready to go.”
Because local filmmaker Michele Barnes has been documenting Turner and his events for the past eight years, there was much film footage from which to choose.
“I’ve been following Henry, trying to document his colorful life,” Barnes said. “They said James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, but, knowing Henry, I doubt that.”
Barnes also loves the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Festival.
“That festival is one of my most joyous adventures with Henry,” she said. “It’s so colorful and so massive, because artists and all types of people come from all over.”
When the pandemic struck, Turner scrapped his original plan to produce a documentary for the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Festival’s 10th anniversary. Instead, the many of hours of film Barnes shot in the festival’s first seven years were mined for “We’re Going Down to the Mardi Gras.” Additional footage was provided by Ted Baldwin’s 3rd Coast Digital Films, the West Baton Rouge Museum’s 25th Annual Sugar Fest and Kevin McQuarn’s FantomLight Productions.
Barnes and editor Trey Lee completed “We’re Going Down to the Mardi Gras” in October. Working from an outline, Tuner wrote — or rather improvised —the film’s script by recording a loosely organized voiceover narration.
“I figured the script was in my head, because I had lived it,” he said. “And after I talked with Michele, I trusted her to find the footage and put it together. Basically, I’d already laid the film out in the narration.”
Turner has received many compliments for his voiceover work in “We’re Going Down to the Mardi Gras.”
“I didn’t even think about that aspect of it,” he said. “But maybe I can be like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones. Let's see where this goes."
'WE’RE GOING DOWN TO THE MARDI GRAS'
Streaming through Feb. 16
$10 donation requested