Friday, October 26, 2007

Back in The Big Easy

Entrance to the cinema screenings for the 18th Annual New Orleans Film Festival.
by Daniel Cappello

Head to New Orleans these days, and you’re likely to come back with Georges
— and Georgeses — on your mind. The city has been making news again of late, for better (post-Katrina cultural strides) and for worse (Monday’s eight-inch rains left parts of the city with waist-high floods eerily reminiscent of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita).

The weekend before Monday’s rains, though, New Orleans had been cheering native John Georges along in the race for Louisiana governor. Georges, a wealthy businessman (he refused contributions and self-funded his $10-million political campaign) and third-generation New Orleanian, ran as an Independent and carried the plurality in Orleans Parish, but was unsuccessful in his bid for governor.

Alexa Georges
Instead, the seat went to Republican Bobby Jindal, who, at 36, will be the youngest governor in the United States when he takes office. Jindal will also be the first Indian American governor in the nation’s history, and the first nonwhite to be Louisiana governor since Reconstruction. Jindal, who earned 54 percent of the vote, was trailed by Democrat Walter J. Boasso (who earned 18 percent), and then by John Georges (who earned 14 percent).

Whether John Georges will continue to make headlines in political news is unclear, but it’s a safe bet that New Orleans (and New York, for that matter) will continue to pay attention to another Georges, John’s exuberant sister, Alexa Georges. A week before the gubernatorial election, Alexa could be found — in between campaigning and getting the word out for John — producing the gala for the 18th Annual New Orleans Film Festival.

Georges, a native New Orleanian, is CEO of Alexa Georges Consulting, LLC. She’s a cultural philanthropist and major supporter of the arts, especially in New Orleans. She sits on the advisory boards of ARTDOCS, the New Orleans Film Society, and the William Faulkner Society. She co-founded the Sweet Art Katrina fund in 2006, a re-granting program for artists in the Gulf Coast region who were badly affected by Hurricane Katrina. Georges was honored this year in New Orleans and New York as a “Sweet Art” by the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans for her contribution to the recovery of New Orleans’s art and cultural scene, and for her work to draw international attention to the impact of Hurricane Katrina. She is also responsible for the recent window displays featuring New Orleans artists at Lord & Taylor’s Fifth Avenue store, here in New York.

Illuminated stairs at Republic, site of the gala celebration for the 18th annual New Orleans Film Festival
Not only is Georges high-spirited and genuinely committed to her philanthropic causes, she’s also that rare society icon who is completely warm and approachable. Most people call out to her with an enthusiastic, “Hello!”, but she’s often greeted by her nickname: “Contessa!” Though not officially a contessa, it is said that her mother’s ancestors from the Greek Ioanian Island of Cefalonia had contessa blood, and if not a contessa in title, Alexa Georges is one by way of lifestyle.

Her jet-setting schedule keeps her busy between her family’s villa on Mykonos and her home in New Orleans, along with trips throughout the country and around the world. When she’s not attending the board meetings of her charities, she can be found hosting elegant and lavish parties in one of her residences. Her easygoing style and natural chic landed her in the pages of Greek Vogue (“Creole Contessa,” July 2006), which unofficially confirmed her contessa status.

On October 11th, as Gala Producer, the Contessa kicked off, along with Gala Chair Roger Wilson, the 18th Annual New Orleans Film Festival. The gala was held at the New Orleans club Republic (the walls of which had been reconceived and repainted by Oliver Stone for the filming of “JFK”), located in New Orleans’s Warehouse District. Georges and Wilson joined New Orleans Film Society Director Ali Duffy and New Orleans Film Society President Ellen Johnson in honoring Theodore G. (“T.G.”) Solomon with the first annual “Celluloid Heroes” Award, an annual honor in recognition of Outstanding Service to the Art of Motion Pictures.

Solomon, who stared working in his family’s theatre business at the age of 10, has built an empire of over 600 theatres and drive-ins, as well as shopping centers, in eight states. In 1997, he opened the first theatre with stadium seating in New Orleans, at the Palace Theatre, and was instrumental in founding the New Orleans Film Society in 1989.
Detail of the walls at Republic
Alexa Georges and T.G. Solomon
Entrance to the cinema screenings
The band and the attentive crowd.
Friends and fans from California to the East Coast joined the New Orleans glam set in the celebration. In the crowd were Ellen Johnson and her husband, Dr. Ronald Swartz; Honoree T.G. Solomon along with his son and daughter-in-law, George and Karen Solomon; host Jordan Friedman; Judy Oudt; Erin Romney, an eco-friendly decorator and the niece of presidential contender Mitt Romney; Annabeth Goodman, the wife of actor John Goodman; New Orleans party fixture Margarita Bergen; dermatologist Patti Farris; Lyn Fischbach; Republic’s managing partner, Robert LeBlanc; Lisa Tudor; former Times Picayune society editor Betty Guillaud; Henri Hall; Adam Marcus; and The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans’s Darren Crumpton.

In from Houston for the festivities was yet another George—former Film Society President and two-time Gala Chair, George Lancaster. (Lancaster lived in New Orleans from 1992 to 2000 in order to redevelop the Canal Place complex for Hines real estate.) He was joined by his sister, Julie Meadows Lancaster, of Los Angeles; Gary Holtzer and Scott LeBlanc, of San Francisco; Tom Harper, of Houston; and this writer.
Robert LeBlanc and Casey O’Conell
Julie and George Lancaster
The following day, October 12th, marked Lancaster’s birthday, which was spent celebrating New Orleans-style (not to mention, Contessa-style). Following a day of tours through New Orleans’s art-and-antiques district and a lunch at Susan Spicer’s Bayona restaurant, Georges hosted a birthday fête for Lancaster at her home in the French Quarter. A film screening later, Lancaster’s party regrouped at Mélange restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, where they took over a private booth to enjoy the hip trumpeter and crooner Jeremy Davenport.

The New Orleans Film Festival, a weeklong production of the New Orleans Film Society,
included the “In Competition” division, the “Film Congress” (a series of mentor sessions, workshops, and panel discussions), as well as themed and curated screenings of independent films from throughout the world. Vince Vaughn was on hand for the screening of his “Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days and 30 Nights, Hollywood to the Heartland.” On October 17th, the same day that the Dalai Lama was in Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, Rick Ray’s “10 Questions for the Dalai Lama” screened at Canal Place Cinema.
Thais Lange and Erin Romney
Karen Solomon and Henri Hall
On October 14th, a tribute was held in memory of the filmmaker Helen Hill. Hill was the award-winning animated filmmaker who also taught art and filmmaking to children and adults. She spent much of her last year restoring reels of 16-millimeter film that had been damaged when her home was flooded with four feet of water during Katrina.

In spite of her family’s misgivings about staying in New Orleans after Katrina, Hill determined that New Orleans couldn’t be abandoned, and convinced her husband to move back to the city. In January of 2007, her New Orleans home was invaded one night and Helen was fatally shot; her husband, shot three times, survived, as did her son, Francis, who was unharmed. “A Tribute to Helen Hill” included screenings of her films “The World’s Smallest Fair” (1995), “Tunnel of Love” (1996), “Scratch and Crow” (1995), and “Madame Winger Makes a Film: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century” (2001).

The Film Festival officially ended October 18th, but the New Orleans Film Society ( sponsors screenings and film-related events throughout the year.
Julie Lancaster, Ellen Johnson, and Alexa Georges
Honoree T.G. Solomon, Lisa Tudor, and Arthur Pulitzer
Borislava Kharalampiev
Dr. Ronald Swartz and Ellen Johnson
Lyn Fischbach
George Solomon, Karen Solomon, and Judy Oudt
Dale Rathke, Betty Guillaud, and Henri Hall
Darren Crumpton and Erin Romney
T.G. Solomon and Karen Solomon
Lisa Walter and Amanda Henkel
Gary Holtzer and Scott LeBlanc
Danielle Kavanaugh and Annabeth Goodman
Patti Farris
Lisa Tudor and Michele Carrere
Margarita Bergen
Crystal Berry and friend
Tom Harper
Adam Marcus and Alexa Georges
David Bernard and Jennifer John
Laurie White
Tom Benjamin and Jane Ettinger Booth

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