High Recommended by Educational Media Reviews Online

May 25, 2015

Reviewed by Vincent J. Novara, Curator, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland 

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended    
Date Entered: 5/19/2015 

The directors, Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson, have created a simple documentary about very complex and interrelated topics. At the surface the films appears to be about the efforts, successes, and failures of marching bands in New Orleans’ poorer wards, but it does not take long to understand that this movie is about so much more. There is no denying that the role these bands play in their respective community is important, but they are also an enriching alternative to succumbing to the worst a city in strife like New Orleans has to offer to youth. Barber and Lambertson allow the subjects to speak for themselves, figuratively and literally, and provide little commentary or no narration to lead the viewer towards any outcome. At times this can make for an uncertain narrative structure, but for the most part it succeeds in getting across the primary lesson: Without these bands, so many of the city’s youth would not just be in trouble, they would be dead.

Primarily shot during 2007 and 2008, the film follows three marching bands in preparation for the Mardi Grad parade season, concurrently while coping with the chaos that surrounds these particular bands due to the rough neighborhoods they call home. The larger setting is Post-Katrina New Orleans – the trauma of which had not yet fully released its devastating grip on the city. The performance documentation is ideal with rehearsal footage, documentation of private instruction and practice, and performances shot from alongside or within the bands in parade. Interspersed throughout is informal footage captured on smart phones by members (Bear, Skully, Kirk, and Jazz) selected from the three bands. This more personal approach invites the viewers into the private home lives on the members, and the differing circumstances within which they live and grow. The first half of the film is almost entirely exposition, while the second half examines the parade season and what follows for the kids. The DVD also offers wonderful bonus features that help to flesh out the topic, including additional performances and more home footage.

The band directors and co-directors are clearly community leaders, and the content reveals that they are much more than music educators to the members. Despite any subtle differences between the bands, one factor that is consistent is that participation in these ensembles is a means for youth to develop self-discipline and self-value. As such, intensity is favored over intonation in performance, making for powerful and expressive musical moments – certainly far more moving than anything a premiere Drum Corps International marching ensemble can create. As the film turns to the performance setting of parade season, viewers may wonder about meaning in these performances by African American youth, especially when one result of their efforts is entertaining topless and/or drunk white idiots – some who are captured on film harassing the band members. Appropriately, a performance at the funeral of a slain fellow band member has so much more meaning and gravity in this documentary.

The Whole Gritty City should be required viewing for any music educator in training, especially those with hopes for a career as a band director. All academic music libraries supporting music education programs are highly recommended to include this documentary in their media collection. Libraries supporting ethnomusicology, youth studies, race studies, or the social sciences will also find the film a worthwhile addition.  

The Whole Gritty City wins Christopher Award

April 08, 2015

 "48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City" is one of 6 television programs to win a Christopher Award. (Awards also went to 3 feature films, including "Selma" and "St. Vincent"). Created in 1949, The Christopher Awards are presented to writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” 

New Review: "An important and beautifully executed film".

October 24, 2014

The website Common Sense Media is an influential nonprofit that reviews all kinds of media with kids and parents in mind. "We rate, educate and advocate for kids, families and schools". They just published a review of "The Whole Gritty City" that's maybe the most thoughtful and perceptive piece on the film we've seen so far. 

You can read the whole thing here

They've also added the film to their list of best documentaries and movies that inspire kids to change the world.

Some highlights:

"An important and beautifully-executed film, it provides families and teens with stunning insights and plenty of opportunities for thoughtful discussion."  

"Without moralizing or instructing, the movie clearly advocates for school and public efforts to give inner city kids a sense of purpose, a community in which to thrive, and the confidence to find and development their strengths. With music as its platform and African-American kids from New Orleans as its subjects, the movie firmly documents an "it takes a village" effort that enriches young lives and counters the effects of the challenging neighborhoods in which they live."  

"Set in New Orleans, the major players are African American. All the teachers and band directors portrayed in this film are committed, hard-working, generous, and empathic -- exemplary members of the community. The band participants, both kids and teens, have made music a dominant force in their lives. Viewers get a sharp sense of the pressures of the neighborhoods in which they grow up, as well as the strength and resilience they must develop to thrive in spite of that environment. Their determined involvement in band life, as well as their connections to the men who lead those bands, give them hope and confidence."  

"It's an act of faith when filmmakers decide to make a movie documenting real life events as they unfold. They open with the beginning , but have little or no idea what the middle or the ending will be. It's a very different experience from that of other documentarians who re-tell a story, add perspective, and perhaps hope to influence opinion about what has transpired. Richard Barber and his co-director Andre Lambertson were rewarded for that faith by being on the scene for extraordinary moments in the lives of both kids and grownups in New Orleans's urban landscape. Marching bands have never been so captivating. The spontaneity, insights, candor, humor, joy, and even tragedy Barber and Lambertson encountered and shaped into a remarkable film couldn't possibly have been anticipated. The result -- at times joyful, at other times incredibly sad -- is an inspiring and moving documentary with great people who have amazing stories to tell. Be prepared to be shattered by some of them."

If you want to write your own review of "The Whole Gritty City", here are links to three sites where you can do that: Common Sense MediaRotten Tomatoes or IMDB.

And if you're in New Orleans November 6th, there are still tickets available for our Tugg.com screening hosted by the Dinerral Shavers Educational Fund, with a live music performance by The Chosen Ones Brass Band, with now-high-school-senior Bear Williams on trumpet, fresh from their triumphant visit to Paris. 

Sept 16th: See New Orleans band kids on screen! Brooklyn band kids live!

September 01, 2014

-- “Gritty City is glorious.”   David Simon, creator of HBO’s The Wire

PLEASE COME and bring your friends!  THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY  A film about music and life


AMC Loews 34th St., 312 W. 34th St. / NYC* -between 8th & 9th Ave.

Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, 6:30 PM

Tickets $12 - Advance Ticket Sale Only!

Directions: Take A, C, E or 1, 2, 3 subway to 34th St. 

Sponsored by Brooklyn United Marching Band, Ty Brown, Band Director. Meet the Filmmakers and see the Brooklyn United Marching Band at the screening.

MUST GET ONLINE TICKETS IN ADVANCE! Buy your tickets today: http://www.tugg.com/events/10973

THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY takes you into the world of kids in New Orleans marching bands, and the charismatic teachers trying to prepare them for Mardi Gras and save their lives. 

“We were determined to convey as best we could the truth of kids’ lives in New Orleans, to show the hard parts and the joyful parts – and to show the powerful difference music - and obsessed, dedicated band teachers - make in shaping and saving their lives. In the process we met some amazing kids and teachers. We made a film that gives you a chance to meet them, too, and that also gives you a totally unique, kids-eye view of the Mardi Gras parades.” - “The Whole Gritty City” Director Richard Barber

“The story needs to be told. In New Orleans or in New York, band is life!” – Brooklyn United Marching Band director Ty Brown

Join us on September 16th for a film that’s heartbreaking, hopeful and real! 

See the trailer

“Sensitive and inspirational.” – NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“Heartbreaking and hopeful.” – LA Times

Raw, real, and beautiful all the same time.

Floored. Wow. Raw. Honest. Beautiful.

Powerful, poignant, & inspirational. Thank you for letting us know there is hope.

You showed a side of America that needs to be shown more often.

Gorgeous, heartbreaking, deeply moving.

OMG I still have this on my mind. POWERFUL.

This is a beautiful, touching portrayal of a complex issue.

 – viewer comments