Cutting Loose

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


New Orleans is known for many things: spicy food, wild abandon, and recently, the highest murder rate in the country, but it is probably most famous for a phenomenon called Mardi Gras. “Cutting loose” is a slang term used each spring, describing the action of letting it all go, allowing fantasy to override reality at this time when anything goes and everything does. A stripper can become a queen, a poor black man be transformed into a regal Indian chief, and a homeless person gain a sense of community, even if only for a day.

Susan Todd and Andrew Young (Lives in Hazard, Children of Fate) return to Sundance with this intimate account of the weeks of preparation and the antics leading up to this big event. We are privy to the collective passion behind the scenes. Rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white, sheltered, and streetwise—Mardi Gras has a meaning for all. There is something innately American about this clashing and melding of traditions and cultures. Yet it is serious business preparing for this united freedom. This act of cutting loose is much more than the drunken revelry we see on our television sets. Desire becomes invention, invention turns into ritual, ritual evolves into tradition, and Mardi Gras is steeped in it. As the excitement builds, we are drawn into the untethering of daily lives during the countdown to the big day.

This is more than a mere travelogue. Todd and Young rely on their talent for “getting in” and take us with them. They understand the spirit of the people, capturing them as they drop their guard before the camera, long before the costumes are buttoned and the makeup is powdered. Cutting Loose becomes a glimpse into the American soul and in turn a part of who we are, or at least who we want to be each year on the streets of New Orleans.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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