Abis Production’s first feature-length film, “Do U Want It?,” is screening in town this weekend as a part of Oxford Film Festival. One of the film’s directors, Josh Freund, will be around to answer audience questions after Friday’s 11:30 a.m. showing at the Malco.
“Do U Want It?” tells the story of a band searching for success when it may have been with it from the very beginning. This push for more exposure eventually led to the demise of the band from the inside, which the members are candid about in the documentary’s interviews.
Freund co-directed this documentary about New Orleans funk supergroup Papa Grows Funk with his friend, Sam Radutzky. The two met in Chicago as students at Northwestern University and moved to New Orleans after graduation to get closer to the music they loved.
“Sam was a big New Orleans music fan,” Freund said. “He pretty much turned me on to New Orleans music, and then I became a big fan.”
The “Do U Want It?” project began almost immediately after Freund and Radutzky moved to New Orleans in 2012. Papa Grows Funk announced its indefinite hiatus in January 2013, six months after the filmmakers arrived in town. Freund said the original plan was to film a short commemorative piece about the band’s legendary – though stinted – career and to honor the fans who kept the band going.
“We realized that the story was so much richer than we had ever known, and pretty soon in the process, we decided to shift gears and make a feature film, and that’s what we did,” Freund said.
The documentary opens with what most would call the end of the Papa Grows Funk story. It’s the Monday night after Jazz Fest 2013, and a crowd of locals is spilling into the street outside the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street. Most of them have been there and done this before. PGF had played this weekly Monday night gig for the last 13 years but was set to end that run with this, its 13th and final post-Jazz Fest show. Freund said that beginning the story with shots and sounds of Papa Grows Funk fans instead of the band itself was intentional and communicates the essence of the band before the audience even sees it on stage. He said the community that developed from these Maple Leaf shows is an immeasurable but valid representation of success.
“The movie kind of begins and ends with similar shots, things about New Orleans and the fans,” Freund said. “The movie goes into a lot about the band looking for success and chasing success and the growth as a band without fully realizing until maybe it was over what they had accomplished at those Monday nights at the Maple Leaf.”
Though the documentary is rooted in the Papa Grows Funk culture, packed full of references to the local scene and interviews with everyday fans, Radutzky said the goal was never to make a niche piece accessible only by people who knew the band. He said that during filming, he and Freund constantly worried about translating this story of a specific band to a wider audience.
“We were constantly thinking about relating the band’s story to a greater story about New Orleans at large, New Orleans musical culture at large and just about the very human need to pursue success and the difficulty of defining that sometimes,” Radutzky said.
The directing duo agreed that audiences have responded well to this effort at painting a bigger picture. Freund said that at his hometown showing in San Francisco, he was surprised by how many people unfamiliar with the New Orleans jam scene enjoyed the movie and said they related to the band. He said that showing was special to him because so much of his city was able to relate to this music it had never heard before.
“It’s been like a huge pleasant surprise how much people feel connected to the movie and moved by the movie despite not having a connection to the band and New Orleans, let alone the Maple Leaf,” Freund said.
Despite the film’s energetic crowd footage and grooving concert footage, the aspect that carries the majority of the movie actually came about late in the production process. Colorful and flowing animations tell much of the band’s story in the documentary, cropping up during interviews and serving as transitions between stories and live performances. Radutzky said most audiences have clicked with the animations and he feels they bring a new element into the already sensory vibrant movie.
Radutzky said the animations were inspired by New Orleans artist Frenchy, whose studio is connected to the Maple Leaf through a back patio. He said Frenchy has painted Papa Grows Funk more than 100 times and has a strong relationship with the band.
“We had the idea from getting interviews. There are some kind of pivotal moments that we’ve now explored through the interview that we don’t really have photos or video from, and it’d be great to have some visual elements tied to those moments,” Radutzky said.
These animations only further display the band’s colorful and groovy energy that kept its tight-knit fans coming back for hundreds of shows.
“Do U Want It?” took home the Audience Award for Louisiana Feature at the New Orleans Film Festival, something Radutzky said was an amazing validation of the film’s ability to connect with people on a personal level. Freund said that underneath all the jams and animated segments, the movie is simply asking viewers what success means to them.
The film will screen at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Malco Commons at, accompanied by a Q&A session with Freund, and again at noon Saturday at the Oxford Conference Center.