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The oldest festival in the world, MOSTRA is Non-specialised competitive event for features and shorts. Two competing sections and three Prizes: the Golden Lion, the Lion of the Year and the Lion of the Future to best director`s debut film.
'I'm Carolyn Parker': An interview with actress Kyrah Julian
Not long after the debut of Jonathan Demme’s latest film, I’M CAROLYN PARKER: THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (2011), at the 68th Venice Film Festival, I interviewed Carolyn Parker’s daughter Kyrah Julian, who stars in the documentary and who attended Venice with Demme. Kyrah has been working with Demme since he started the documentary in 2006. Demme met the strong and outspoken Carolyn Parker in 2006 when she complained to the New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin about the neglect of the Ninth Ward in NOLA after Hurricane Katrina. Demme decided he wanted to make a documentary about the Old Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina with Carolyn Parker as his focus, a project he finally finished in 2010. Throughout those four years Kyrah Julian worked with her mother Carolyn and director Jonathan Demme on the documentary; she even took up an acting role in Demme’s feature film RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (2008) in the interim. After Venice’s La Biennale, the film went on to experience its North American premier in Toronto (TIFF) and continues its festival circuit worldwide.
ME: Can you start by speaking a bit about the film? Who is Carolyn Parker?
KYRAH: The film “I’m Carolyn Parker” is a mixture of two things. Parts of the movie are about my mother’s (Carolyn Parker) fight for her right to rebuild our home in the Lower Ninth Ward area of New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Other parts, mainly another half, of the movie are about my mother’s past work during the Civil Rights Movement, growing up in a segregated New Orleans and our family’s history. It began as just another “Hurricane Katrina movie” but ended up becoming my mother’s autobiography.
ME: How did Jonathan Demme come into your lives and meet Carolyn Parker and when was it that he decided he had to make a film about her?
KYRAH: Jonathan Demme had come to New Orleans in early 2006 just to see (and film) what New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward were like after the hurricane. He was touring the neighborhood when my mom, Carolyn Parker, came out to the porch and introduced herself and offered a tour of our then gutted out home in which we resided (with my brother Rahsaan and uncle Raymond as well). I’m not sure when exactly Jonathan decided to make a film, but he kept visiting us in New Orleans two to three times a year and filming any updates about rebuilding the house and our church, St. David.
ME: How many years did it take to make the film?
KYRAH: The movie took a little over 4 years to film in total.
ME: The film debuted in Venice and then went on to Toronto and is doing rounds in film festivals around the world. How do you feel about the success of the film?
KYRAH: I think I can speak for both my mom and I in saying that we never expected this movie to get so much attention, if any at all. We honestly thought a few people would want to see it because of who the director was, but we never really had too high of hopes pertaining to the film’s success. We had no idea when Jonathan introduced himself to us four years ago that this would be happening now. We are very grateful and honored that so many people find the film so fascinating and inspirational.
ME: How has making this film changed your life?
KYRAH: The movie has made such an impact on my life… I’ve made great friends with Jonathan and his crew and family during the years of filming, I’ve met so many people I would never have known otherwise, and received so much help and love from people I have never really met. While rebuilding the house we received care packages from people across the country that had seen us on the Tavis Smiley show. I’ve had the opportunity to do things (movies, etc.) that I never would have had a chance at. I really look back on things and feel very appreciative.
ME: How has this film changed the life of your mother Carolyn Parker?
KYRAH: She’s extremely happy that the truth was finally allowed an outlet through people that really care about her and her well-being. She feels that she never would have made it this far without Jonathan’s unyielding spotlight on our situation (which was still the situation of many other New Orleanians). He allowed people to remain aware of our struggle not only during and immediately after the hurricane, but in the years following. She honestly just appreciates the help and friendship Jonathan provided during and after filming.
ME: How is the situation today in New Orleans? Do you feel like the film has made a positive impact of awareness of the reality of the situation?
KYRAH: New Orleans is back. For the most part. We have the same problems that most cities have, but the city is still in the process of rebuilding and renovating but there are new homes and both new and old businesses opening every day. Our population is increasing with New Orleanians moving back as well as new citizens (known as transplants) from all over the country. Many of our post-Katrina transplants happen to be volunteers that decided to move here. We’ve become another part of Hollywood South with many more films and television shows shooting here as well. I think the film has made a positive impact on the situation here in New Orleans. It broadcast the reality of rebuilding New Orleans, which is something many news and television didn’t even touch on. The documentary tells what happens after you decide to move back and remained honest about what the rest of America forgot about.
ME: Carolyn Parker was a world famous cook. Is she still cooking? What is she doing now after the film?
KYRAH: My mom, Carolyn, retired as a chef in 1995 following a stroke and heart attack. She still cooks, at home mostly, even though she has toyed with the idea of helping new cooks in the kitchen. Otherwise, she’s just enjoying life and the opportunity to finally slow down a bit.
ME: Do you still live with your mom in NOLA?
KYRAH: I still live in the Lower 9 with my mom. Things are great. We split household responsibilities and I mainly just look out for my mom as much as I can. However, I’m in the beginning process of finding my own place.
ME: What was it like to work with Jonathan Demme? He seems like a very passionate guy and nice. Was it easy to work with him?
KYRAH: Jonathan is awesome to work with! Working with him on “I’m Carolyn Parker” had been relatively easy. It was never a sort of business relationship. My mom and I both saw Jonathan as a friend of the family. We were always aware that he was filming, but it was always just like catching up with friends that come to visit. He’s an incredibly nice and generous person as well. As far as doing feature films with Jonathan (I was in ‘Rachel Getting Married’), I can honestly say he’s very passionate and has very good ideas for making a good movie. He sees things differently and will push you as an actor to do your best all while making you feel comfortable enough working with him.
ME: In the film you say that you want to become a teacher but now it looks like you are acting. You had a role in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, and now this. Do you plan to do both teaching and acting? Or do you prefer acting?
KYRAH: Honestly, I have an interest in doing so much. I still have an interest in becoming a middle or high school teacher. I’m considering teaching a few years down the line. My main passion, however, has always been music. I’ve been singing for about as long as I can remember. I do love acting as well; I realized I had a knack for it (at least improve anyways) while shooting ‘Rachel Getting Married’. I’m open to working on my acting in the future.
ME: What will you work on now?
KYRAH: At the moment, music is my main focus. I’m in the process of putting together a band and I have been singing and doing live shows off and on for years. I’m finally making an attempt to take it more seriously. I’m also going to work on my acting and start pursuing roles here in New Orleans.
ME: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we end?
KYRAH: My mom and I had no clue when we met Jonathan Demme in 2006 that he was THAT Jonathan Demme. Much of the footage, especially in the beginning of “I’m Carolyn Parker” is a raw response to someone that we assumed was like many other journalists and tourists that “just wanted to see what it was like”. How we met was in no way rehearsed. This isn’t your average “Katrina movie”. It’s more about resilience and faith than anything. Jonathan really did his best not to portray us as a miserable group of people stuck in a bad situation. The movie really attests to the spirit and strength of the city.
ME: Thanks Kyrah. It’s been awesome talking to you. By the way, I love your tattoos ☺
KYRAH: Thank you! I’m trying to come up with a good concept for a new tattoo. And thanks for the complements and the opportunity.
Interview by Vanessa McMahon with actress/singer Kyrah Julian, daughter of Carolyn Parker of I’M CAROLYN PARKER: THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (2011).
photos by Vanessa McMahon, at 68th Venice Film Festival
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