Aaron Walker's documentary about the Mardi Gras Indians, Bury the Hatchet, opens today at Chalmette Movies. It's the only scheduled theatrical screening for the film. Walker is still pursuing the festival circuit, and it will screen in two weeks at Toronto's Hot Docs, one of the top documentary film festivals in North America. It also screened at the New Orleans Film Festival in October, but this is the only other chance locals have to see the movie on a large screen. And it's well worth it.
Walker spent many hours with big chiefs Monk Boudreaux, Victor Harris and Alfred Doucette between 2004 and 2006 — a particularly dramatic period for both the Indians and New Orleans. Well before the levee failures, NOPD broke up the St. Joseph's Night Indian parade. That lead to a dramatic City Council meeting in June 2005, at which Big Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana collapsed and died. (Gripping footage of that event is included in the film). The ordeal of post-Katrina flooding, exile in distant locations and return and rebuilding also occupy a significant portion of the film. But the film gets its substance from the rapport developed between Walker and the chiefs. He stopped filming in 2006, and the chiefs periodically dropped by his Bywater home to inquire when he would release the film. Walker continued to edit his footage and search for old photos and file footage. Then in 2010, he took his camera out and revisited the chiefs. It was a wise choice, because it keeps Katrina from hijacking a great film about Mardi Gras Indian culture. There's plenty to recommend in this film, including the abundant use of Mardi Gras Indian songs, performed both traditionally as chants and in jazz and popular musical renditions.