Film Fest More Diverse Than Ever

With a new executive director comes a mission update for the New Orleans Film Society.

Held October 11 to 19, this year marks the 28th year of the New Orleans Film Festival and it’s a year where you’ll be seeing more diversity than ever before.

This will be the first festival to be helmed by Fallon Young, who stepped in this past February as the new executive director of the New Orleans Film Society.

“Not long after I came in, we were doing some strategic planning and that included redoing our mission statement,” says Young. “We wrote in diversity as a priority and as an organization we’re investing in that focus heavier than ever.”

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Fifty-three percent of this year’s selections are by female directors and 45 percent are by directors of color — the most diverse lineup in the festival’s history.

This year’s centerpiece film appears to be the perfect choice — ticking all the boxes. Filmed in and around New Orleans, the film takes place during World War II and focuses on two families — one black and one white — in the middle of the Jim Crow South. It was also directed by a woman, with women also filling the roles of producer, writer, cinematographer, editor, sound mixer and head of makeup. If you miss “Mudbound” at the festival, it will be available on Netflix starting Nov. 17.

“This is a story of racial tension that is very timely,” Young says. “It may take place decades ago, but it hits on a lot of contemporary issues.”

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The festival continues to grow, seeing a 20 percent increase in submissions this year over last. Nearly 5,000 entries were received from 109 countries, but still 29 percent of the films being showcased were made in Louisiana.

Given recent box office news, the effort to make the festival more diverse makes good business sense.

“It’s about reaching a broader audience that’s hungry to see their experiences on screen,” says Young. “Just look at ‘Girls Trip.’”

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A box office success, the film “Girls Trip” starred an all black female cast and brought in more than $130 million worldwide this year — the same year another black, female dominated movie, “Hidden Figures,” topped over $229 million worldwide.

Then of course there’s “Wonder Woman,” which officially destroyed the Hollywood male, white action star mold and blew away the competition to become the top-selling movie of the summer domestically, grossing over $400 million.

With all three of these successes occurring within less than a year, it’s clear that the market for more diverse films that break the usual Hollywood formula for success is there, and it’s far from small.

The New Orleans Film Festival is a treasure trove for those looking to see quality films that challenge, inspire and educate that they may otherwise never get a chance to see — whether that’s with a thoughtful documentary on climate change, a film on female boxers in India, or the story of the war for electricity fought between Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla.

Tickets for the New Orleans Festival go on sale Oct. 2. For more information, visit

Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.

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