The Whole Gritty City

The Whole Gritty City is a 90-minute documentary that plunges viewers into the world of three New Orleans school marching bands. The film follows children growing up in America's most musical city, and one of its most dangerous, as their band directors get them ready to perform in the Mardi Gras parades, and teach them to succeed and to survive. Navigating the urban minefield through moments of setback, loss, discovery, and triumph, these children and their adult leaders reveal the power and resilience of a culture.
The film features three marching bands in the years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city: the O. Perry Walker and L.E. Rabouin high school bands, and The Roots of Music, a new band for middle school-age children. These young beginners in Roots are put through their paces by the program's founder Derrick Tabb, drummer for the Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band.

As Mardi Gras approaches and the young musicians progress, the film focuses on a few of these kids. Partly through video they create with portable cameras, we discover their passions and quirks, their personal struggles and tragedies. We come to see the powerful positive role the band plays in their lives. 11-year-old Bear, determined to master the trumpet, lives in the shadow of an older brother murdered at age 19. 18-year-old drum major  Skully shouts out to loved ones he's lost to violence, including the band director who was a father figure. 12-year-old Jazz aspires to be a musician like her father, even as her mother struggles to provide for the family. Along with their bandmates these kids enter into the rigors and glory of  marching in Mardi Gras parades in front of thousands of cheering spectators.

The film culminates in a different kind of musical performance: a moving funeral tribute by band members from across the city paid to a young man who was one of their own. This New Orleans marching band story is a unique portrayal of an American inner city. It highlights men with an open-eyed, deep commitment to the community they've grown up in and the children in their charge. Viewers who know first-hand the African American urban experience will find a celebration of the strength and insight of these men, and the potential and resilience of their students. Others will find a moving, empathetic portrayal of an unfamiliar world, and come to feel a stake in the struggles and triumphs of these children and their mentors.



Finalist 2015 National Association of Black Journalists, Salute to Excellence in Television

Winner 2015 Christopher Award, TV & Cable

Official Selection 2013 New Orleans Film Festival

"Highly Recommended" - Starred Review, School Library Journal

"Highly Recommended" - Booklist


"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"  - Educational Media Reviews Online

"Sensitive, intelligent and inspirational" - NPR "Fresh Air" 
"Both a celebratory film -- filled with fanfares and snares, concerts and parades -- and a very emotional one."

- Mike Scott, New Orleans Times Picayune


"At once heartbreaking and hopeful...told not in facts and figures, which say little about how people are, but in observed activity and snatched talk."

- Robert Lloyd, LA Times


"Champions what the American urban experience offers us all in terms of culture, community and ultimately, meaning....Gritty City is glorious. Alternately heartbreaking and joyous, one instant to the next.”

-  David Simon creator of HBO's Treme, and The Wire


"Triumphs in its child-centered perspective."…"By that final scene, the film has so clearly established that we are watching ordinary children. Ordinary children pouring their hearts into music, and trying to find their way forward, in the wake of extraordinary pain."

- Sarah Carr, The Hechinger Report


"Like a good band, the film is much more than the sum of its parts."

- Mark Walsh, Education Week


"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"
-Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media


Type Price
Streaming Access (1-year) $149.00
Streaming Access (3-year) $299.00
Streaming Access (Perpetual) $499.00
DVD $295.00
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