• Jack Francis

Interview With Martin Shore, Director of Take Me to the River: New Orleans

Updated: May 13

We sit down with Martin Shore, director of the fascinating new documentary Take Me to the River: New Orleans, which celebrates the influence of one of America's most culturally rich and musically diverse cities...

This is the second project within the Take Me to the River series. What was it about New Orleans that made you choose it as the subject for the movie?

Well, New Orleans is the first example, and really the originator, of world music - and by that I mean the influences and inspirations from all around the world that comes together in this musical gumbo. And I thought the story hadn’t been told very well or effectively, and I wanted to make sure that this music, the legacy, the heritage, the history, is all documented for generations to come. That way people can understand the culture and understand the music that comes from the culture. But the story can’t get lost, this cultural jewel we have. You want to be able to trace it all back and see where it’s going in the future.

The viewer gets to be that fly on the wall, feeling how I feel when I’m in that room with artists like that

Do you think there’s anywhere in the world that has quite as rich a culture as New Orleans?

There are very few musical communities that have such a rich culture and heritage, where the music plays such a big part in everything that is happening – whether that be cuisine or nightlife, you name it. And there’s such a rich heritage of how New Orleans came to be. It was Ellis Island before there was an Ellis Island. So, if you were coming to the United States, you were entering through the mouth of the Mississippi River. In terms of its history and specifically its music, its diversity is notable for sure.

One thing that immediately stands out is your passion for the subject. How much does exploring music mean to you personally?

It means everything. Music is one of the best examples of how all walks of life can work together to collaborate and create something beautiful, and lasting, and powerful. Music is the soundtrack to what is happening socially, politically, economically – all of it comes out through music. We have these different genres, and it’s interesting because when you merge them together and start breaking down these barriers of generation and race and gender, you start to see this infusion of genres within different cultures. But you realise at the crux of it – it’s all just music. It’s either good or bad. By going and being adventurous in trying to bring combinations of different walks of life into music, you find that it’s a great example of true transparency and true collective collaboration – and that commitment to communicate and cooperate really shines through.

Getting to know these musical icons on a more human level – it never becomes boring

Staying with those artists – does it ever get old being in that environment with people like George Porter Jr. or Aaron Neville?

Not at all. We spend long hours in the studio, they’re long days. But that’s the beauty of it. The viewer gets to be that fly on the wall, feeling how I feel when I’m in that room with artists like that. But getting to know these musical icons on a more human level – it never becomes boring. Part of the power of the film is allowing you as a viewer to get to know them. It never becomes boring, because even when we’re not working on the music, the stories and the history we’re able to get from each other, they’re so rich.

There’s a point in the movie where you have all the Neville Brothers together in the studio, and it would go on to become the last time they were together in that environment. How organic was that?

It wasn’t scripted to happen that way – but we knew that there was the potential for that to happen, and we set the wheels in motion. All the credit goes to Ian Neville - son of Art Neville - who was also a producer on the film. We filmed specifically during Jazz Festival, so we knew Charles would be in town. So would Aaron. Those two weren’t living in New Orleans at the time. It all started as an Aaron session, and Charles is so affable, just a great guy – and he wanted to stop by and say hi. Cyril had been involved in other sessions and was showing a great interest in the work we were doing and the story we were telling. The big piece to fall was getting Art in, and all credit goes to Ian, as I said. Art didn’t know he was going to be called to play, but it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting.

How privileged do you feel not just as a filmmaker, but on a deeper level, a music fan, to witness the final studio session of the Neville Brothers?

It was unbelievable magic that took place that day. For them all to be there with their children, George Porter Jr. being there. The whole session was magic. It still chokes me up to this day, it really does. It was one of the main goals going into production, to somehow get these legacy musicians back together and be documented before we lost someone.

Take Me to the River: New Orleans is now available to watch in select theatres throughout the United States - find out more on their website