I grew up in the New Orleans area, so I can't resist movies set in that location, especially documentaries. The only problem is that I worry about seeing anything involving the term "post-Katrina" in a theater, because I'm always worried I'll end up in tears or enraged in public. Fortunately, Don't Eat the Baby: Adventures at Post-Katrina Mardi Gras kept me more amused than sad, but at the same time managed to accurately represent the problems that South Louisianians faced in the six months after the hurricane and ensuing floods.
Don't Eat the Baby focuses on the ways in which New Orleanians dealt with Mardi Gras in 2006. The city was devastated, with much of its population forced to live elsewhere, and for many people it seemed inappropriate to spend money and other resources on a big celebration. Still, the large parade organizations (called krewes) wanted to roll, the mayor and other politicians hoped that the festivities would draw tourism and thus bring needed revenue to local businesses, and many New Orleanians simply wanted to take a little time to forget about the bad things in their lives, and celebrate as they have done every year. The documentary shows both sides of the issues, and includes interviews with a number of people from different parts of the area: a man trying to gut his ruined house in the Lower Ninth Ward, the owner of a wax museum in the French Quarter, a former Rex, King of Carnival. I enjoyed seeing the "Mardi Gras experts" I grew up watching on TV, like Blaine Kern, whose company creates most of the Mardi Gras floats; Errol Laborde, an editor and publisher who has written a book on Mardi Gras; and Mardi Gras historian Henri Schindler.
I never quite understood why the film spent a significant amount of time with a Plaquemines Parish guy who was driving to Mardi Gras -- it did pay off comically at the end, but I would have preferred to have seen more aspects of local Mardi Gras, like parades in greater New Orleans or the notorious "truck parades" that occur after the lavish tradition parades on Fat Tuesday. Plaquemines did have some serious hurricane damage, but there were areas of New Orleans equally damaged that were not mentioned in the film, like Lakeview. The film does a very good job, however, of explaining the overall extent of the city's post-Katrina damage and the problems that residents and businesses were facing -- and still are, two years later.
For me, the best part of the movie was seeing the ways in which people decided to celebrate post-Katrina, with relevant costumes and parade floats. There were lots of FEMA-related costumes, plus floats with satirical messages about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, various local and national politicians, looting ... New Orleanians aren't afraid to poke fun at just about anything, including themselves. I also liked seeing the Mardi Gras Indians, who parade on foot every year in breathtakingly elaborate homemade costumes. I will confess that hearing about a Mardi Gras without the St. Augustine High School band, which I saw in parades for years when I was growing up, did make me tear up a little bit. (The band returned in 2007, though.)
If the title sounds weird or cannibalistic to you, it's related to the Mardi Gras tradition of the king cake, in which a tiny plastic baby is hidden. (If you get the baby, you have to buy the next king cake. If you actually eat the baby ... I hate to think about it.) The soundtrack is unusual for a New Orleans film. We are so used to hearing jazz and blues that it was almost jarring at times to hear the more alternative sounds of local musicians Quintron and Miss Pussycat.
Director Todd Berger, who has worked primarily in features until now, is also an ex-New Orleanian, and it's evident that he loves the city and wants to show the rest of the world an accurate picture of New Orleans post-Katrina. Don't Eat the Baby succeeds in using its Mardi Gras focus to provide a glimpse into the lives of people who returned to the city, whether they are wealthy Uptown families who participate in the most exclusive krewes, residents who feel a lavish celebration was inappropriate, or paradegoers who just want to have a good time. It's a film that non-Louisianians will be able to appreciate and enjoy, and locals can have fun arguing about what they feel should have been included.