In more than a few of its slim 80 minutes, “Tchoupitoulas” feels like it accomplishes the impossible. “Tchoupitoulas,” before you keep asking, is pronounced “CHOP-ih-TOO-lus,” and it’s the second movie from Bill and Turner Ross, collectively known as the Ross Brothers. It is ostensibly a documentary, but the movie lands in a relatively unexplored nether-zone between fiction and nonfiction. You won’t find any issues being discussed, or any world problems solved; only a bleary-eyed, overnight New Orleans adventure with three teenage brothers. From the very first shot, we’re inside the brain of the younger brother, privy to his internal dialogue, and he’s watching us watch him. His eye-contact is both riveting the raising of a signpost: “Abandon Expectations Upon Entry.” Other signposts throughout the night include: “Narrative Cul-de-Sac Ahead,” “Yield to Environment,” and “Abstract Shapes.”
“Tchoup,” as the filmmakers affectionately call it, presents itself as a single, all-night sojourn through New Orleans, but the Ross Brothers shot for far longer. After eight months of shooting, they found the three young brothers that would become their primary subjects. So, the film became an impression of the time spent in the city between two sets of brothers. It’s fraternal elements are palpable. The movie is, by design, the second of three planned films shot on a low-end miniDV camera that, frankly, looks like shit. So, it is all the more shocking when the Ross Brothers find the beauty of early morning haze, the drifting of harbor beacons, and, most importantly, the hilarious interaction of the three young brothers as their teenage bravado dials slowly down into annoyance, then desperation and finally flat-out exhaustion as the night rolls along.
Documentarian Ricky Leacock said that the most important aspect of a documentary is the feeling of “being there,” and “Tchoup” surely accomplishes that in strides. Leacock was speaking of the environment and his subjects, though, and “Tchoup” may require a broader definition. The audience is present in New Orleans, with the young brothers, in any burlesque house or with any street performers the Ross Brothers find interesting, with the point of view of the filmmakers, and with the notion that this might be a “movie” instead of a “documentary.” But it is a document – just of a broader nature than we are used to.
Recently, Paste sat down with Bill Ross, one half of the documentary team, for an appropriately sprawling conversation that covers dive bars in Los Angeles, the NFL draft, and the Lumiere Brothers.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE