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Film Offers Rare Inside Look at Mardi Gras

February 12, 2007

Fran Simon

Her mother was a queen, her grandmother was a queen and her great-grandmother was a queen. Her great-grandfather was Rex, King of Carnival. Yet Rebecca Snedeker decided to dump her debut.


Rebecca Snedeker's new film, "By Invitation Only," offers a rare insider's glimpse into the rituals of New Orleans Carnival. Above and below, Snedeker is shown in two scenes from the film, which was partly funded by the Newcomb Center for Research on Women.

Instead, she wrote, directed, produced and starred in a documentary, "By Invitation Only," that examines the question, "What does it mean to be queen of the masked men?"

To investigate this intriguing question, Snedeker began work in 1999 by following a 20-year-old New Orleanian through her debutante year, culminating in her crowning as queen of a Carnival krewe.

Because of her family connections, Snedeker is able to show an insider's view through unprecedented access to the secret societies of Mardi Gras. By examining the rituals of New Orleans' high society, Snedeker explores her own identity.

"We thought of the film as Rebecca's own debut," says Tim Watson, the film's co-producer and editor. "By Invitation Only" bravely examines the make-believe world of Mardi Gras and its relationship to romantic visions of the antebellum South along with issues of race, class, gender and family mores.

"My family has had various reactions to the film, from messages of great appreciation to anger and feeling betrayed," Snedeker says. "Mardi Gras is my favorite time of year," she says, but concludes, "Until all my loved ones are welcome, this will not be my fantasy world again."

In addition to shooting original footage, Snedeker delved through masses of Carnival memorabilia, archival photos, film reels and television recordings. Project scholar was Susan Tucker, curator for books and records of the Nadine R. Vorhoff Library at the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women at Tulane.

The one-hour documentary was released in fall 2006. The film was funded in part by an Emily Schoenbaum Grant of the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women. The Emily Schoenbaum Research and Community Development Grants Program is designed to encourage and support projects that will benefit the lives of women and girls, particularly those in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

021207_film2_1Projects may contribute to scholarly knowledge or to general public understanding of women's lives and experiences.

"Projects that have the potential to bring about change in women's lives or to effect public policy so as to improve the well-being of women and girls are especially welcome," says Beth Willinger, executive director of the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women.

The program, founded in 1999 by Emily Schoenbaum, a 1988 graduate of Newcomb College, awards up to $1,000 for project-related costs such as travel, clerical support and the purchase of research materials including items such as tape recorders, film and tapes.

The next deadline for applications is March 9, 2007. Individuals or nonprofit, Louisiana institutions and organizations are eligible to apply. Applicants may be students, faculty or staff members of any Louisiana college, university, primary or secondary school, as well as community scholars and activists.

For application guidelines, call 504-865-5238. Snedeker also received funding for "By Invitation Only" from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louisiana Division of the Arts through the Arts Council of New Orleans, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the Independent Television Service.

The next screening of "By Invitation Only" is Tuesday (Feb. 13) at 7 p.m. in Loyola University's Nunemaker Auditorium. The film will be followed by a discussion with Snedeker.

The event is free and open to the public. "By Invitation Only" may be purchased on DVD for $20 plus $3 shipping. To purchase a DVD or schedule a screening, e-mail

A recorded interview of Rebecca Snedeker speaking about her new film is presented by WTUL.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000