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Claire Varney



Claire Varney is a Field Producer and Corresponding Journalist.

Claire directs and produces one-on-one and impromtu interviews @ premieres, festivals, on-the-street, and production behind-the-scenes throughout the US and internationally.   

 

Productions include:

HBO Field producer/Correspondent -20 years "The Buzz" 

CTV / Bell Media Canada - 15 years as L.A. & NYC based Producer with "ETalk"

Paramount Studios, Discovery, Showtime, BSkyB, Star TV Asia, CityTV/Rogers Communications, AMPAS and more...

Independent film EPK Producer and Unit Publicist   

 

 


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JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY Interview with Ryan Suffern, Co-Director and Producer ~ By Claire Varney

Every spring I look forward to heading south to one of my favorite cities on the planet to join the celebration that is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  After a long winter, it guarantees a joyous reunion of family and friends, off the charts terrific music, really great food, and together joke de vivre! 

The festival was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Very tough for many of us. Needless to say, we all were overjoyed to have it back on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May.  
And this year, we are delighted to say it didn't really end there...

I met with Ryan Suffern at the festival in May to discuss his exciting and long-awaited documentary~~
 

 LOGLINE: 

This soulful and heartfelt celebration of 50 years of the funky and fabulous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival invites you to bliss out on New Orleans' unique culture, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, Pitbull, Al Green, Herbie Hancock, Aaron Neville, Earth, Wind & Fire, and many others...

 


 

JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY

INTERVIEW WITH RYAN SUFFERN,CO-DIRECTOR & PRODUCER 

 

 

CV

SO NICE TO MEET YOU HERE ON THE GROUNDS OF THE 2022 NEW ORLEANS JAZZ AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL.

TO BEGIN WITH, PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND LEADING UP TO THIS FILM-

 

RS

I USED TO WORK FOR THE KENNEDY MARSHALL COMPANY WHERE I HELPED TO CREATE THE DOCUMENTARY DIVISION. 

OVER THE COURSE OF THE PAST DECADE, FRANK MARSHALL AND I HAVE COLLABORATED ON NUMEROUS DOCUMENTARIES, RANGING FROM EVERYTHING FROM MUSIC TO SPORTS TO SOCIAL ISSUES, BUT ALWAYS WITH AN EMPHASIS ON THE HUMAN INTEREST COMPONENT AT THE CORE OF THE STORY, MUCH LIKE THE NARRATIVE FILMS THAT KENNEDY/MARSHALL IS SO WELL KNOWN FOR PRODUCING. 

WE’VE FOUND OURSELVES TELLING ALL SORTS OF AMAZING STORIES ACROSS ALL SORTS OF GENRES, AND OUR JAZZ FEST FEST FILM IS CERTAINLY NO EXCEPTION.

 

 

CV 

WHERE HAVE THESE DOCS LANDED?  

IN THEATERS? STREAMING?

 

RS

ALL OVER THE PLACE REALLY. 

WE MADE “THE BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART”, WHICH FRANK DIRECTED FOR HBO. 

OUR FILM “SATAN AND ADAM” WAS RELEASED A FEW YEARS AGO ON NETFLIX; WHICH COINCIDENTALLY HAS A JAZZ FEST COMPONENT TO IT, IN WHICH THIS BLUES DUO FROM THE STREETS OF HARLEM ENDED UP PLAYING IN THE BLUES TENT AT THE FESTIVAL…  

 

CV

DID THAT FILM PREMIERE AT TRIBECA FILM FEST?

 

RS

YES IT DID. WE HAD MR SATAN HIMSELF AT THE PREMIERE. 

 

SO, OUR FILMS ARE PRETTY MUCH ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE .. WHETHER ITS AMAZON, OR ESPN, OR HULU,

WE RECENTLY HELPED TO PRODUCE A DOC SERIES ON PAUL MCCARTNEY AND RICK RUBIN, CALLED “MCCARTNEY 3,2,1” THAT CAME OUT LAST YEAR ON HULU. 

THIS FILM, “JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY” IS GOING TO BE THEATRICALLY RELEASED BY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS. 

AND THEN IT WILL EVENTUALLY GO TO STREAMING AND OTHER PLATFORMS. 

 

CV

THIS FILM PREMIERED AT SXSW FILM FESTIVAL IN MARCH. 

HOW WAS THAT?

 

RS

THE RESPONSE TO THE FILM'S PREMIERE IN AUSTIN DURING SXSW WAS REALLY GREAT.  WE HAD A BIG SOLD OUT CROWD AND THE REVIEWS THAT CAME OUT OF THE FESTIVAL HAVE BEEN REALLY POSITIVE, WHICH WAS OBVIOUSLY GREAT TO SEE. 

WITH ANY DOCUMENTARY, THESE THINGS ARE MARATHONS TO MAKE, NOT SPRINTS… 

WE STARTED THIS PROJECT NEARLY 3 1/2 YEARS AGO, AND THEN COVID HAPPENED RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PROCESS. FORTUNATELY, WE HAD ALREADY COMPLETED ALL OF OUR FILMING BY THEN, AND WE WERE ABLE TO WORK ON EDITING THE FILM DURING COVID. OUR FANTASTIC EDITOR, MARTIN SINGER, WAS ABLE TO CUT EVERYTHING FROM HIS HOME, SO WE WERE ABLE TO STAY PRODUCTIVE WHEN SO MANY PRODUCTIONS HAD TO SHUT DOWN. 

WE SHOT THIS FILM ON IMAX CAMERAS, AND THE INTENTION WAS DEFINITELY TO HAVE AUDIENCES SEE AND HEAR THIS FILM ON THE BIG SCREEN. SO WE'VE BEEN WAITING UNTIL PEOPLE WOULD BE GOING TO THE THEATERS AGAIN, WHICH IS GRATEFULLY STARTING TO HAPPEN. 

IT'S SO GREAT THAT THINGS ARE ALL TIMING OUT, ESPECIALLY ON THE HEELS OF THE FESTIVAL FINALLY BEING BACK IN FULL SWING.  

IT’S LIKE GOING THROUGH A TIME WARP, BEING HERE NOW 3 YEARS LATER AND THE PLACE IS PACKED AND EVERYBODY’S HAVING A GREAT TIME: YOU WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT THERE WAS A GLOBAL PANDEMIC THAT TOOK PLACE.

 

 

 

CV

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THIS FILM COME ABOUT?  

 

RS

QUINT DAVIS, THE FESTIVAL DIRECTOR/PRODUCER HAS BEEN INVOLVED WITH THE FESTIVAL SINCE IT’S VERY INCEPTION. 

HE’S GOOD FRIENDS WITH JIMMY BUFFETT, WHO IS A FIXTURE OF THE FESTIVAL, AND HAS BEEN FOR DECADES.    

AND JIMMY BUFFETT IS GOOD FRIENDS WITH FRANK MARSHALL. 

SO, WHEN THERE WAS TALK ABOUT TRYING TO DO SOME SORT OF FILM AROUND THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FESTIVAL IN 2019, JIMMY (WHO IS ONE OF OUR EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS) WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN CONNECTING QUINT AND FRANK- AND THAT’S HOW THE CONVERSATION STARTED ABOUT DOING SOMETHING. OBVIOUSLY, WE KNEW GOING IN THAT THERE WOULDN'T BE ANOTHER 50TH ANNIVERSARY. SO WE HAD A BIT OF A TICKING CLOCK TO FIGURE OUT HOW BEST TO TRY AND TELL THE STORY OF THIS INCREDIBLE FESTIVAL

THE FESTIVAL IS ALMOST A MIRROR TO THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS. AFTER ALL, IT IS CALLED THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL FOR A REASON. I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE MIGHT MAKE THE MISTAKE OF THINKING BECAUSE IT’S KNOWN AS 'JAZZ FEST' THAT IT’S PRIMARILY JUST A JAZZ MUSIC FESTIVAL..BUT IT’S ALSO VERY MUCH THE HERITAGE OF NEW ORLEANS, AND THAT’S WHY WE TITLED THE FILM, “JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY”. WE WANTED TO INTEGRATE- WITHIN THE PERFORMANCES AND INTERVIEWS THAT WE CAPTURED, A MUCH LARGER STORY ABOUT WHERE THIS MUSIC COMES FROM, AND WHERE THIS CULTURE WAS FIRST DERIVED AND HOW IT IS STILL THRIVING TODAY WITHIN THIS AMAZING CITY. 

 

Jimmy Buffett

 

 

CV

WHILE MAKING THIS DOCUMENTARY, WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT SURPRISED YOU - SOMETHING YOU DID NOT EXPECT?

 

RS

THIS FESTIVAL IS SO MASSIVE, AND IT’S SO RICH WITH SO MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF MUSIC. THERE'S LIKE 7,000 MUSICIANS ON 14 DIFFERENT STAGES PERFORMING OVER EIGHT DAYS. AND THEN THERE'S THE RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING FOOD, AS WELL AS THE CRAFT MAKING, AND THE MARDI GRAS INDIANS PERFORMING, AND ON AND ON…

SO ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES WAS REALLY, HOW DO WE REDUCE THIS ALL INTO A STAND-ALONE FILM THAT DOES JUSTICE TO JUST HOW INCREDIBLE THIS FESTIVAL IS? FORTUNATELY, IN ADDITION TO WHAT WE FILMED AT THE FESTIVAL IN 2019, WE ALSO GOT ACCESS TO A WEALTH OF ARCHIVAL FOOTAGEFROM NOT ONLY PAST FESTIVALS, BUT ALSO ARCHIVAL MATERIAL OF NEW ORLEANS IN GENERAL. 

I’D SAY THAT WAS PROBABLY OUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE, OR CERTAINLY ONE OF THEM- TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO PUT THIS WHOLE GUMBO/MIXTURE OF A CULTURAL EVENT INTO ONE STAND-ALONE PIECE. 

 

Tank and the Bangas

 

 

CV

WE WILL WRAP THIS UP NOW AS I CAN HEAR THAT SAMANTHA FISH IS ABOUT TO TAKE THE STAGE.. I BELIEVE SHE’S  IN THE DOCUMENTARY?

 

RS

SAMANTHA FISH IS AMAZING. SHE'S A FANTASTIC BLUES SLIDE GUITARIST, AND SHE PLAYS ON A CIGAR BOX GUITAR. IT’S REALLY SOMETHING ELSE TO WATCH, AND SHE’S FEATURED IN THE FILM. I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HER AGAIN!

 

Samantha Fish

 

 

CV

FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT BEEN TO JAZZ FEST, IS THIS A GOOD LEARNING EXPERIENCE ABOUT WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT?

OR IS IT MAINLY FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE GONE TO JAZZ FEST AND LOVE IT? 

 

RS

WE MADE THIS FILM, FIRST AND FOREMOST, TO PAY HOMAGE TO THOSE WHO LOVE JAZZ FEST AND KEEP COMING BACK EVERY YEAR.  AND ALSO TO THOSE WHO LIVE IN NEW ORLEANS AND LOUISIANA AND TAKE SUCH GREAT PRIDE IN ARGUABLY ONE OF THE GREATEST MUSIC FESTIVALS IN THE COUNTRY, IF NOT THE WORLD.  SO WE WANTED TO DO RIGHT BY THEM, AND BY ALL THE ARTISTS WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE FILM AND ALLOWED US TO CAPTURE THEIR PERFORMANCES- AS WELL AS SIT FOR INTERVIEWS WITH US.  

BUT WE ALSO REALLY WANTED THIS TO BE SOMETHING THAT WOULD INTRODUCE A MUCH LARGER AUDIENCE TO THE FESTIVAL, AND TO WHAT MAKES NEW ORLEANS SO UNIQUE AND EASILY ONE OF THE MOST SPECIAL CITIES IN THE COUNTRY. 

 

GEORGE WEIN, WHO IS IN THE FILM AND IS THE FOUNDER OF THE FESTIVAL, SADLY SINCE PASSED AWAY LAST YEAR. 

HE SAID, “NEW ORLEANS IS THE ONLY CITY IN THE COUNTRY THAT HAS A CULTURE THAT IS TRULY UNIQUE TO ITSELF”.

OUR GOAL WAS TO SHOWCASE WHAT THAT UNIQUE CULTURE IS, AND WHERE IT CAME FROM. 

 

 

CV

ONE OTHER QUESTION I'D LIKE TO ASK - ALWAYS INTERESTING WITH CO-DIRECTORS... VERY BASICALLY - HOW DO YOU SPLIT THOSE DUTIES?

 

RS

IT'S A GOOD QUESTION. 

AS I MENTIONED, I'VE BEEN FORTUNATE TO HAVE WORKED WITH FRANK MARSHALL, MY CO-DIRECTOR AND PRODUCING PARTNER ON THE FILM, ON A WHOLE HOST OF DOCUMENTARIES OVER THE YEARS. AND IN THAT TIME, FRANK AND I HAVE DEVELOPED QUITE THE SHORTHAND IN COLLABORATING TOGETHER, ESPECIALLY IN THE EDIT OF THE FILM, WHICH IS REALLY WHERE DOCUMENTARIES ARE MADE. 

HAVING COME FROM AN EDITORIAL BACKGROUND, I LOVE THE PROCESS OF DISCOVERY THAT COMES WITH CUTTING THE FILM TOGETHER, AND FRANK IS ONE OF THE BEST IN NOT ONLY PROBLEM SOLVING, BE IT IN PRODUCTION AND IN POST, BUT ALSO IN SEEING THE REAL POTENTIAL FOR THE STORY DURING THE EDIT. 

AND OF COURSE, WE WERE BLESSED TO HAVE SUCH AN INCREDIBLE TEAM TO HELP US BRING THIS STORY TO LIFE.

 

Ryan Suffern at the 2022 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (photo credit: Laurie Klugman) 

 

 

 

Claire Varney

Jazz Fest 2022

Contributing Journalist @ Filmfestivals.com

 

 

 

 

About Claire Varney

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