A new documentary focusing on Mardi Gras Indian traditions is set to premiere on April 12 at the National WWII Museum’s Solomon Victory Theater, with proceeds going to the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association.
The movie, “We Won’t Bow Down,” was shot entirely in New Orleans over an eight year period by first time director Christopher Levoy Bower.
Bower, an Asheville, North Carolina native, was initially drawn to Indian culture by photographer and “We Won’t Bow Down” co producer Steve Mann’s pictures.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and scattered the close knit Mardi Gras Indian community, Bower began making conducting interviews for what would eventually become the 90 minute documentary.
On the first St. Joseph’s Day celebrations after Katrina, Bower saw the power and resilience of Mardi Gras Indian tribes up close.
“The first Indian I ever saw was Victor Harris of the Spirit of Fi-Yi-Yi, and he was singing a prayer called ‘calling all my people,’ and he was calling all his people home,” he said. “It just literally gave me chills. You could feel the spirit in the air. There must have been 50 people surrounding him, chanting. It’s just something I couldn’t let go.”
From the beginning, it was essential to capture the culture straight from the mouths of the Indians, Bower said. That meant no narration and no outside experts stepping in to explain.
“It was very important for me to let the Indians tell their history,” he said. “It’s definitely not the most intellectual approach to it, but I felt like it really resonated with the history of the culture. It’s a living culture, and that is so important because it’s always moving. A lot of the work that has been done about Indians has been done about past generations, and I want to capture that but also have this new generation that’s forming the new traditions.”
Audiences nationwide have been captivated by the movie. Bower said the world premier at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles drew an enthusiastic response – even from people outside the theater.
“We took some of the guys from the Ninth Ward Hunters and the Comanche Hunters to perform at the premier,” he said. “They did a procession through the Crenshaw Mall, and to just release that on people randomly and to see the response, that was amazing. People were coming from the parking garage, the balconies, little kids were dancing. There was a connection there that defies intellectual understanding. It was just in the spirit of what was happening.”
Monica Cooper, president and CEO of Los Angeles based film and television production company Make It Happen Entertainment, served as executive producer on “We Won’t Bow Down.” She said actor and community activist Wendell Pierce was also an instant convert.
“Wendell Pierce saw the screening in Los Angeles, and basically contacted us and said ‘I want to make sure the folks in New Orleans see this,’ and he’s championed the movie ever since,” Cooper said. “He saw that it was important enough to get behind, and we’re definitely very appreciative of that.”
Pierce’s Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association will be involved in the April 12 New Orleans premier at the National WWII Museum, an event that was originally scheduled for April 13 but had to be moved up one day to accommodate Pierce’s busy filming schedule.
“We want the folks that are walking around at the French Quarter Festival to come out to see the film,” Cooper said. “We are going to have people walking around handing out fliers. We’d hate for people to be late! We want everyone to know it’s happening on April 12!”
We Won’t Bow Down Premier
National WWII Museum
Solomon Victory Theater
Saturday, April 12
Red Carpet Screening 7: 15 p.m.
General Screening 9:15 p.m.