“A raw portrait of New Orleans and its youth, told through the eyes of three young men as they skate through the gritty streets.”
“Welcome to Gnarleans”, said Jazz to filmmakers Raul Buitrago and Henry Hung as they landed in New Orleans in July of 2016. The two were headed down to the South for the purpose of filming a skateboarding documentary. Although they had high expectations of capturing real, raw footage in a place like New Orleans, they didn’t set them high enough. Captivated by their initial footage, the two returned back to the city in the Spring of 2017 for more. So, what’s the documentary?
The concept of Gnarleans is like no other ever seen in New Orleans. It’s a glimpse into the lives of three skateboarders, told using observational footage. It explores themes of family, connectivity, relationships with themselves and the city, and overcoming personal hardships through positive outlets.
Like the city of New Orleans, the skateboarding community is small, but big in its entirety. It’s like a family. Having learned about the skateboarding-based documentary, I was both intrigued and hyped. I wanted to know more about the gritty details and get a deeper understanding of the issues that would be tackled in the film. So, I was lucky enough to link with one of the filmmakers Raul Buitrago. I asked him about his overall concept, thought process, and actual process of the film. Check out our interview below.
NG: Why did you start making this documentary?
RAUL: We started making this documentary because New Orleans isn’t considered a big skate destination. Before we started filming, Henry had approached me and asked if I had any contacts in the south. He was trying to do a photo project somewhere. We got to talking about maybe doing a film project and he mentioned New Orleans. My eyes lit up! I’ve been to New Orleans more times than any other city in this country.
I reached out to my friend Calvin Millar in Austin, who through connections, put us in touch with Phil at Humidity Skate Shop. I mentioned to Phil that we were looking for anyone from 18-30ish and that I wanted to use all original, local New Orleans music. As soon as I said that, he knew just the guy to put me in touch with. So we went into this project with the focus being on a skateboarder, Jamie Hardy, or Jazz, who lives in a city that isn’t frequented by skaters at large. And it turned into something bigger than just that.
NG: What was your focus behind the film?
RAUL: I wanted to take three skateboarders and explore the themes of family, connectivity, relationships with themselves and New Orleans, and overcoming personal hardships through positive outlets. There is no firm narrative backbone, there are no on-camera interviews, and there’s no text helping you figure things out along the way. I decided to take an experimental approach to the film, inviting the audience to immerse themselves in the moments presented and connect the dots for themselves. It feels like a dusty, bittersweet memory.
A very important part of this project was to include musical contributions from local New Orleans artists. There isn’t a lot of music in the film by design because I wanted a lot of the footage to speak for itself. And it allows for the parts with music to be felt even more.
NG: Which local New Orleans Artists are involved in the film?
RAUL: The artists who contributed music are Jazz (in the skate world) or Gameboy (in the music world), King Haley, and Gene Stanza. Additionally, we are putting a promotional mixtape alongside the film. There’s also a few more artists included on the mixtape that aren’t in the film.
NG: Who did the filming/editing?
RAUL: I edited the entire project. Henry also had a significant role in the edit as well. Henry’s brother, Joseph, did all the color grading. Tim Bright contributed original score work for the voiceover parts of the film. John Parthum for the sound mix on the entire project.
NG: “GNARLEANS”! I love that. How did you come up with that title?
RAUL: The title actually wasn’t my idea or Henry’s for that matter. It was Jazz’s first words to us after we landed in New Orleans on the first trip. He said,”Welcome to Gnarleans”. It just stuck with me. And yeah there’s definitely some gnarly moments in the film.
NG: Tell me about the premiere, I hear you’re going to have live performances from the Artists featured in the film?
RAUL: Yes, I felt that another important part of this project is that the film be shown first to the fine people of New Orleans. It’s only right to premiere it in New Orleans! The premiere date is March 16th and the film will also be released on the web that night. We’ll be screening the film at Sidney’s Saloon at 7pm sharp.
We thought it was appropriate to include the musical contributors in the event. So we’ve got Gameboy, Gene Stanza, King Haley and Ken Blvd. (he’s on the mixtape) performing right after the screening. And my oh my is it gonna be fire.
NG: Any shout outs you wanna give to the peeps involved in the process?
RAUL: Shouts to you for featuring the film! Big shouts to Phil Santosuosso at Humidity for helping us get this started. He was integral for this whole project getting to where it landed. To Jamie “Jazz” Hardy, Troy Lacabe and Jarred Dearmas for their patience and willingness to be a part of this project. 3 of the dopest on the planet. They welcomed us with open arms and it shows in the final product. Big shouts to my collaborator Henry Hung for his level headedness and talent, Joseph Hung, Tim Bright, and John Parthum for their wisdom and expertise. To the love of my life, Dana, for consistent, unwavering support. To Gene Stanza, King Haley, Flu, Ken Blvd. And to all the people we met while filming and the city of New Orleans. Son, too many shouts….too grateful….
GNARLEANS is set to premiere on March 16, 2019 beginning at 7 pm sharp at Sidney’s Saloon on St. Bernard Avenue. The film will be followed by live performances by Gameboy, King Haley, and Gene Stanza.
To get a glimpse into what you can expect from this nitty gritty film, check out the official trailer below: