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Angola Rodeo

Two hours northwest of the Crescent City in West Feliciana Parish lies the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as “Angola” or simply, “The Farm.” Angola houses over 5,000 inmates – more than 3,500 serving life sentences – making it the largest prison in America. With 18,000 square acres, the property is bigger than the island of Manhattan. Hemmed in on three sides by the Mississippi River, most of the prison property is unfenced. The prison has its own museum, airstrip, magazine, radio station and golf course for prison employees – inmates aren’t allowed to play. Some of the 1,800 employees live with their families on prison property, and much of the staff comes from families that have been working at “The Farm” for generations. Angola is, without a doubt, the most unusual prison in America.

Its not surprising this environment produces an event like the Angola Prison Rodeo. Originally conceived as a distraction for inmates and personnel, the prison opened the Rodeo to the public in 1967. The event was so successful that Angola built a 4,500-seat arena two years later. Since then, the Rodeo has only grown larger over the years with the addition of 3,000 seats and an arts and crafts festival that showcases the inmates’ art. Proceeds from the Rodeo and the arts and crafts festival fund the inmates’ education and recreation. Angola houses the longest-running prison rodeo in the country.

Every Sunday in October, prisoners from “The Farm” are invited to compete in nine different rodeo and rodeo-like competitions. There are the standards, such as Bareback Riding and Bull Riding. Unique to Angola are some more unusual events, such as Wild Cow Milking, where teams of inmates attempt to coerce milk from a wild cow, or Bull-Dogging, where pairs of inmates attempt to wrestle wild stallions to the ground. Some events are outright insane, such as Convict Poker, where prisoners sit at a table playing poker, while a wild bull is released into the arena. The last man seated at the table is pronounced the winner. The final and most intense event is Guts N’ Glory: A poker chip is tied to the meanest bull, and the inmates have to get it. The first to get the chip wins. At the end of the day, the top participants receive awards, such as the coveted “All-Around Cowboy” that goes to the top performer of the day.

While this event may seem anachronistic and barbaric – a slightly toned-down version of gladiatorial battles – it is truly fun for everyone involved. The public gets to witness a spectacle unlike any other in the world, and the convicts, many of whom will never again set foot on free soil, get to remind the world that they exist. For one hot, dusty October afternoon, these inmates get to be the heroes that whole crowd cheers for.

New Orleans Film Festival

This year marks the 22nd Anniversary of the New Orleans Film Festival, an event that promotes local talent by showcasing films and filmmakers from Louisiana. The Festival will run from Oct. 14-22. Last year, the festival boasted its highest attendance ever, as 40 percent more people appeared at the festival than in 2009. After such a successful display in 2010 – in which 8,400 people attended – Program Director Clint Bowie, said that he expects 10,000 attendees in 2011.

This expansion coincides with the growing reputation of the New Orleans film industry. Recent films such as “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” “D?©j?  Vu” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” were all filmed in the city. As a result, the film festival has developed into a major stepping stone for local and aspiring filmmakers.

Four years ago, The New Orleans Film Society implemented a category specifically for Louisiana filmmakers who have lived in the state for a year or more. It will give awards for Best Louisiana Short Film and Best Louisiana Feature Film; three jurors who are selected by the society will judge the films competitively. Notable jurors this year include Wendell Pierce of HBO’s “Trem?©,” and Academy Award-winning director Luke Matheny. Critics, filmmakers and industry leaders judge all the categories at the festival, providing priceless exposure to the Louisiana film industry.

The other award-winning categories this year include Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Experimental and Animated. The most notable film that will be screened this year is “The Artist,” a French film featuring John Goodman that is already generating significant Oscar buzz. Festival attendees will also see two documentaries relevant to New Orleanians this year: “The Big Fix” and Jonathan Denne’s “I’m Carolyn Parker.” The former analyzes and documents the BP oil spill disaster in 2010 while the latter follows the heart-wrenching tale of an unsung victim of Hurricane Katrina.

This year, the judges will review 181 films. The growth of the festival has been a revelation for the local industry as well as a revenue booster for the community. As Bowie looks to the future, he wants to build the festival as a “destination festival” so that visitors and film industry careerists alike will be drawn to New Orleans specifically for the event. Competition from the Hamptons and Austin Film Festivals do not deter the New Orleans Film Society, as the allure of their city continues to attract people from every echelon of the international film community.

Festival Acadiens et Cr?©oles

If you’re on the budget of a broke college student but still want to take in some of the great food, music, dancing and crafts that make Louisiana so unique, look no further than Festival Acadiens for your Creole culture fix. Tens of thousands of visitors will descend upon Lafayette’s Girard Park Oct. 14 – 16 to get their taste of South Louisiana’s most authentic culture; some of these visitors even travel from Canada, France and Belgium.

Festival Acadiens began in the 1970s as a series of smaller festivals, of which Louisiana Native Crafts Festival is the oldest. With the addition of the Bayou Food Festival, Festival de Musique, Louisiana Folk Roots, Culture Sur La Table and La Place de Petits, Festival Acadiens became an incorporation of all the best Creole culture has to offer. When asked about his favorite festival moments, Chef Patrick Mould, the festival’s emcee, said he enjoyed many aspects of the events.

“The food is always amazing,” Mould said. “The year before the great Creole fiddler Canaray Fontenot passed away, he played with Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil and Bois-Sec Ardoin, and it was just a blistering set of music.”

A walk around the festival grounds allows visitors to experience all things Creole, from devouring an alligator-sausage po-boy to browsing jewelry, wood furniture, photography and other folk art. Keep walking to hear some of the state’s best Cajun and Creole musicians, and to play alongside them and pick up some tips. No one is content to just listen to the music, so bring your dancing shoes and you’ll be sure to find a swing partner among your fellow festival-goers.

Barry Ancelet, one of Festival Acadiens’ co-founders, testifies to its scope as not only preserving southern Louisiana’s past and culture, but also appealing to modern audiences.

“It is local, home-grown, very original, very innovative, with lots of young, college-age musicians at the heart of it,” Ancelet said.

With its close proximity to University of Louisiana-Lafayette, the festival always attracts a large student crowd, as well as student volunteers manning the drink stands or working as stage announcers.

With Festival Acadiens’ enormity, Mould said one might be surprised to find out that it’s put on with no office or paid staff. Admission to the festival is free too. That sounds like music – and art, food, and dancing – to a college student’s ears.

Art for Art’s Sake

Calling all artists, musicians, lovers of art and festival-goers: New Orleans’ Contemporary Arts Center kicks off its 31st annual Art For Art’s Sake festival Saturday Oct. 1 on Julia and Magazine streets as well as in the historic Warehouse Arts District.

More than 38 studios and galleries are opening their doors for the center’s event. The funky galleries and music-filled streets are sure to be a highlight of the semester. Art For Art’s Sake takes place on the first Saturday of October each year. On this night, the area buzzes with culture and art-junkies.

“It’s the kickoff to gallery and visual arts season,” CAC director of communication Lindsay Ross said.

This year, the CAC is celebrating its 35th birthday – a huge milestone for the center.

“A long time ago in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Warehouse Arts District was rundown and needed some help,” Ross said. “The CAC was the anchor for that revitalization.”

With the help of the CAC and its philanthropic art events in the area, the area took a turn for the better.

“We now say the CAC helped make that transition from skid road to gallery road,” Ross said.

In the 1980s, Art For Art’s Sake was focused solely in the Warehouse District. Now, it’s a citywide event with participating galleries from the Riverbend to Magazine Street. The entire event is free to the public, and pedestrians are encouraged to wander in and out of galleries. Any gallery in the area that requests submission can participate.

One of these galleries, The Bead Shop on Magazine Street, opened 19 years ago on the night of Art for Art’s Sake. Every year the festival is a birthday celebration for the shop.

“We’ll have live music, pop fresh popcorn, wine, and string lights outside to give it a fun local street fair vibe,” co-owner Georgia Wilson said.

The shop extended its invitation to customers who make jewelry to show off their own work at the event.

“There is a huge range of styles, from contemporary to edgy, elegant to fun,” Wilson said. “We love that the selection of artists really reflects our eclectic mix of customers.”

Alex Williams, of Potsalot on Magazine Street, said he appreciates Arts for Art’s Sake because it gives him an opportunity to interact with the community.

“I enjoy meeting with folks and explaining what I do,” Williams said.

From 6-9 p.m. on Julia Street, the CAC is throwing a block party. There will be tickets to purchase food and drink, a DJ spinning vintage vinyl and an artist photo booth available to spit out funky photos.

Because this year is the organization’s 35th anniversary, it’s also throwing an official afterparty from 9-11 p.m. at the CAC on Camp Street. DJ Soul Sister and Ellis Marsalis will be performing.

“We’re offering this big, free party,” Ross said. “It’s our gift to the art community after everything’s over.”


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