A dreamlike love letter to New Orleans, “Tchoupitoulas” (pronounced ‘CHOP-a-TWO-liss’) transports audiences into a dazzling world rich with eccentric characters and vibrant culture. From the film collective behind Oscar-nominee “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” this spirited journey follows three boys as they stay out all-night, wandering the streets of the city.
“Tchoupitoulas” is the second documentary feature from brothers Bill and Turner Ross, who recently chatted with the Tribune ahead of the film’s one-day engagement at the Film Bar in downtown Phoenix on Sunday, Jan. 27. Passionate yet easygoing, the brothers recounted the film’s eight-month shoot, the challenges they tackled and the enchanting people they met along the way.
EVT: How did you guys first meet the Zanders brothers? Did the idea for “Tchoup” come about because of them or was it something you had been thinking of for quite awhile?
TURNER: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. The impetus for going down there was certainly based on we didn’t know those boys when we were heading down. That was a place that very much had been important to us and as we were children, it really stuck with us, the feeling of being in that wild city at night. That was a bit of what we wanted to capture and our hope was that we would find surrogates for that experience, that we would sort of find kids going through those sorts of experiences.
That may have been a little hopeful and naïve that they would just show up because we weren’t casting or doing anything like that. And the kids had to be exactly right, they had to be the kids that would be in that environment. Seven months into shooting, they walked past us while we were having a conversation and we started shooting with them after.
EVT: How long did shooting last?
BILL: Eight months? I think it was eight months, and with the boys primarily it was one night.
EVT: What were some of the challenges you encountered while making this film?
TURNER: I think kind of just the idea of being up all night for eight months trying to shoot with low light and a lot of noise was a perpetual obstacle, but that’s also what we were trying to capture so it’s inherent, you know? The majority of the shoot, like we said, was away from those boys and us trying to construct that environment and really build the world that they would exist in. And so that meant that every character in the scene, even if it’s only for a blip, and even harder for characters that we don’t see, and we spent months of time with those people, trying to digest the environment and collect those quintessential moments. It was just a profoundly, immense capturing of footage that couldn’t even make it into 80 minutes.
EVT: There were many interesting people that come and go throughout “Tchoup,” but I was most intrigued by the burlesque dancer who we see drinking a bottled water backstage. Could you tell me anything about her?
BILL: Yeah, her name is Pearl Noir. For the last several years she’s been working as a burlesque dancer, in Las Vegas and all over the world.
TURNER: She’s a genuine article, but also just the sweetest, most interesting person. It’s funny because you see maybe a 10-minute window of her experience, but we filmed with her for a week.
EVT: Do you still keep in touch with the Zanders brothers?
TURNER: Yeah, definitely. I live in New Orleans so I try to check in on them when I can.
EVT: And what can you tell me about your upcoming project? I read that it’s a Western.
BILL: Yeah, we spent 13 months down on the Texas-Mexico border, and like this project and the one before it, it’s a vast collection of experiences rearticulated into a vertical lingo of time. We’re calling it a Western and that’s kind of what it plays on. It’s just those themes and a portrait of those people.
EVT: To wrap things up, what would you say were your favorite movies of last year?
TURNER: I think it kind of runs the gamut. Bill and I were both befuddled by “The Master.” I think in terms of high-end, out-there-in-the-world movies, that really struck me. I think (Paul Thomas Anderson) is ever evolving and always doing strange things that are always apart of his own conversation.
BILL: My favorite was “Only The Young,” which we’ve been touring around with all year, definitely. That’s kind of part of our world and speaks from our world.