Film Reviews

One Note at a Time @ NOTTIFF

A documentary concerning the healthcare of New Orleans-based musicians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is definitely a tough sell. As a niche subject, it sounds like it could work as a short film, but for a full 90 minutes, is there really enough material to cover? Fortunately, the answer is a definite ‘yes’. One Note at a Time is highly recommended for both music and documentary lovers, fully deserving of the accolade of Best Documentary awarded to it at Nottingham International Film Festival.

The main focus of the film is the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, founded in 1998 and given a three-year federal grant in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After the NOTIFF screening, director Rennee Edwards revealed that the project began life as an investigation into what happened to the jazz funeral tradition in New Orleans after the hurricane. However, this soon became a four-year project, not just about jazz funerals, or even just about the clinic, but about state of musical culture in New Orleans by 2011 (the year filming was completed).

“New Orleans would rather dance in the face of adversity than grieve”

Hearing the description of the film so far, it would be completely understandable to assume that this film is just bleak. However, this is not the case at all; as becomes clear from the scenes filmed at a traditional jazz funeral, New Orleans is a city which would rather dance in the face of adversity than grieve. The film reflects this and is ultimately optimistic, focussing on the good that has come in the aftermath of the disaster. This good comes in the form of the community coming together and the half-rebirth, half-reinvention of the New Orleans music scene.

“The situation has not improved, and the clinic still needs help”

Although largely optimistic, One Note at a Time is also a righteously angry film; angry at the apparent inaction of the government in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, angry about proposed new curfew laws set to stifle the world-famous musical culture of New Orleans, and – most of all – angry with a failing healthcare system abandoning those in need. Filming was completed in 2011 but, as we are told by a caption at the end of the film, the situation has not improved, and the clinic still needs help.

“Most of those interviewed credit the residents of New Orleans”

Particular focus is given to the resilience of the people and musicians of New Orleans, many of whom agree that not only has the music scene of the city recovered but that it’s better than it’s ever been. Most of those interviewed credit this not to the leaders or the government but to the tireless work of the residents of New Orleans themselves, along with organisations such as the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.

“…absence of any archive footage of the hurricane itself”

It’s also clear from the beginning that this film is less interested in the actual event of Katrina and is more concerned with the people whose lives it irreversibly changed. This is most obviously shown by the conspicuous absence of any archive footage of the hurricane itself. In it’s place come first-hand testimonies of the event in interviews with the subjects of the documentary themselves; the musicians. The result is incredibly affecting, and it’s impossible not to get attached to the various musicians who benefit from the clinic, or be touched by the stories they tell.


Adam Wells

As mentioned earlier, whilst the three-year grant given to the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic from the federal government has now run out, and filming was completed in 2011, the clinic still needs help. Click this link to donate money and support the clinic:

Image courtesy of NOTTIFF Offical Webpage

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