"The Whole Gritty City" (CBS, Saturday). Like many documentary films, this feature-length look at New Orleans, marching bands, kids and band directors took a while to get done. Shot from 2007 to 2010, it was finished with funds raised from Kickstarter and acquired by CBS, which is airing it under the rubric of its crime-umentary series "48 Hours." (Richard Barber, who edited the film and co-directed it with Andre Lambertson, its director of photography, works for the series.) The venue is not entirely inappropriate -- murder is a recurring theme through the film, a low, dissonant pedal tone that fades up occasionally but never completely fades away. But it is not the dominant note, which is the creation of harmony, figuratively, literally.
It's sometimes hard to track -- there are three bands, three band directors and numerous young players, and it is not always easy to remember who goes with whom, and who goes where, and the film, which (excitingly) is as close to cinema verite as network television ever gets, jumps around between them, without narration or much in the way of identifying titles. But since all bend toward similar goals, with similar obstacles in the way, it is all, in a sense, the same story; the end, which is at once heartbreaking and hopeful, makes that clear. ("Treme" fans may be reminded of Wendell Pierce's story line, in which an itinerant trombonist finds himself -- and finds himself -- slowly becoming a teacher.) It is a look at life, rather than a structured argument; or rather, the argument is made continually, with casual eloquence.
Certainly, the adults here, teachers and parents both, have a sense of urgency and mission; New Orleans is a dangerous place, most years in the running for the nation's murder capital, and the hope for new generations of city youth is to redeem them with music -- the satisfaction it brings, and the discipline it demands -- which is a long city tradition in itself. But what is most affecting is what the camera catches -- the gleam of brass, a toddler drumming with fair authority on a sidewalk, figures in a field at twilight rehearsing, pages of music blowing in the wind, faces in thought, and not in thought. It shows you the town; it lets you listen to the music without getting in the way. (There are times when no one speaks, for the network equivalent of eternity.)