Somber Reflections

It was five years ago today that I got the terrible news that Helen Hill had been murdered in her home. She will not be forgotten.

A few months ago I had the decidedly bittersweet pleasure of viewing Helen’s final film, The Florestine Collection, which was completed by her husband Paul Gailiunas. A true labor of love, the final product is a really fine piece of cinema. It was a trip to chat briefly with Paul at the screening, as I never thought I’d see him in this city again. I regret I wasn’t able to spend more time catching up with him, but parental responsibilities intervened.

I suppose this would be a fitting time to mention that ROX #96 is finally complete. (Read my production notes if you are not clear on the connection.) We’ve broken the episode into three parts for online viewing. Part 1 touches on Helen’s passing. Watch it now.

Meanwhile, what of the city and the persistence of violent crime? I can’t say it any better than this missive from SilenceIsViolence:

Today begins a month of somber reflection, and of focused rededication, for the community-led movement that has come to be known as SilenceIsViolence. Five years ago on this day, local musician Dinerral Shavers was murdered as he tried to protect his family — and a week of cruel, relentless killing took hold across our city. When another beloved local artist, filmmaker Helen Hill, was shot in her home one week after Dinerral’s death, the Times-Picayune declared that “Killings Bring the City to its Bloodied Knees.” For once, such a headline did not seem overly sensationalistic.

The city banded together after that week in early 2007, marching together by the thousands to City Hall, and demanding that city leadership do more to support victims, to fix a broken criminal justice system, and to partner with a population frankly desperate for a safer, more civil city. City leaders stood, and listened, and vowed to make the homicide crisis their #1 priority.

Five years later, where are we? Sadly, in a city that is, if anything, less safe than before. The homicide rate has climbed steadily over the past year, and for the first time since 2007 we risk losing 200 of our residents to murder this year. Beyond unacceptable, this situation in a city our size is actually insane.

From time to time, city leadership utters the same vows we heard in 2007: that safety is the #1 priority, that proactive services for vulnerable young people, and support for victims and their families, are a city-wide focus. But those vows are starting to sound pretty empty.

Certain families do receive support. They are the families of victims like Dinerral and Helen — victims who, for whatever reason, grip the public’s attention and the media’s concern. But in the five years SilenceIsViolence has spent working with victims outside that spotlight, we have seen hundreds more who never receive material, emotional, or basic logistical support in the aftermath of their loss. Most victim families have a hard time even reaching their own homicide detective or prosecutor by phone. Meanwhile, the first thing we now learn about victims of violence from the police and the media — and often the only thing these families will ever see in print about their loved one — is a prior arrest record. This without consideration of the severity or relevance of these records, or even of whether the arrests were ever tested in a court of law. And without the slightest compassion for the families that must read these postings, and whose sense of betrayal and further eroding trust in the system is eating away at any chance of constructive community/system collaboration.

Last week, many of you answered our call to support these forgotten victim families. You sent contributions that have purchased clothes and food for sisters and brothers of those lost; furniture for witnesses who must independently relocate; and childcare for parents who have lost a partner. Thank you for your unquestioning compassion for those in need. Tragically, this need only increases with each passing day, and we invite the support of every concerned citizen who is able to give something to a traumatized family. We are happy to connect you directly with those families, or you can make a tax-deductible contribution to SilenceIsViolence, and we will distribute 100% of the donation for you. Those who contribute $75 or more will be recognized as “Peace Agents” for 2012, and will be invited to participate in our annual second-line parade, to be held on April 1 of the coming year. You can donate or reach us for family contact information by visiting our website,

Over the coming month, as we approach the annual Strike Again Crime (January 23-28), SilenceIsViolence will seek to re-engage our city in remembrances and efforts on behalf of these who are victims of, or vulnerable to, violence. Each week, we will tell you individual stories about the families we serve, and the victims they mourn. These stories are compiled in a Victim Allies Project report to be released at the end of January, including data detailing our findings over the past year with respect to law enforcement, criminal justice, and other official civic interactions with these families.

Details about Strike Against Crime week activities will be forthcoming over the coming weeks, as well. Meanwhile, thank you once again for your support during a year that has been very difficult for all of those who desire a more respectful and safer New Orleans.

Please join me in supporting SilenceIsViolence.


Once again we interrupt our regularly scheduled investigations to draw your attention to a notable screening.

The Florestine Collection


Experimental animator Helen Hill found more than 100 handmade dresses in a trash pile on one Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans. She set out to make a film about the dressmaker, an elderly seamstress who had recently passed away. The dresses and much of the film footage were later flood-damaged by Hurricane Katrina while Helen was still working on the film. Helen was murdered in a home invasion in New Orleans in 2007. Her husband Paul Gailiunas has completed the film, which includes Helen’s original silhouette, cut-out, and puppet animation, as well as flood-damaged and restored home movies.

This film is screening tonight and Thursday. Details at the New Orleans Film Festival website.

Not Forgotten


So I went down to Michael’s house last night to watch Treme. I fully expected to see a commemoration of Dinerral Shavers, and that is how the show began. The funeral scene was moving. Nakita Shavers, playing herself, gave a heartbreaking eulogy for her brother. I read that she had to do that scene four times.

What I did not expect, however, was a scene that came midway through the show. Suddenly we find ourselves at a crime scene in the Bywater. Hey, I recognize that house. I helped pack up those belongings into boxes. I remember finding a card someone had left behind, a professional crime scene cleaning service. But now we’re there before the cleanup. We’re seeing the police investigation. We can see them making a botch of it. (I never thought of it that way, but clearly that’s what it was: a botched investigation. Or so it seems to me, but I only know what I read in the papers and hear on the street.)

I’ve watched every episode of this damn show with a sense of detachment. Yes, it’s all very accurate. It captures some of the spirit of a time and place that I lived through, and that’s a trip. But all the same, it’s just a TV show. It’s just a story, safely trapped inside a frame of the TV set.

Until last night. That crime scene, and some of the follow-up, stripped away my detachment and made me feel grief anew. I shed a few tears. Hell, after Katrina I cried most every day for a year or three, but these days my composure is not so easily shaken. The scene showing the tributes of flowers and other offerings, piling up around the bicycle, was also fairly heartrending.

It was all so damnably accurate. It stirs painful memories. But at the same time I’m glad that Helen is not forgotten.

The scenes in which I was an extra, depicting the March for Survival, were very brief but inspiring. The message of unity was clear. It was fascinating to me to see how much went into the production to yield so little screen time. I was able to pick myself out in a crowd scene for one fraction of a second, but you’d have to know exactly where to look and I doubt anyone could recognize me.

I was prepared to hear Nakita’s speech at the rally, since I’d heard they were going to use archival footage of her alone. Then, a strange technical glitch occurred. We think it was due to the DVR kicking in to record another program. Anyway, I didn’t see the last 60-90 seconds of the program. That was highly ironic, because I’ve since heard that I got the last word.

In a way, it seems appropriate. Yes, I would have gotten a little thrill out of seeing myself on TV again, a little egotistical headrush. I’ve been on TV a lot, over the years, and I’m kind of addicted to it. But it’s a highly ambivalent feeling, too, considering the circumstances. Whatever narcissistic gratification I might derive is quickly blunted when I remember how we got here. I’d gladly trade this small fame to have my friends back whole again. I guess that goes without saying. Anyway, the ironic truncation of the episode seems almost just.

I still haven’t seen it, but a friend sent me a screenshot.

TV in Bar

Life sure is a strange and sad affair.

I know opinions differ about the value of such storytelling. My friend Nevitate, a New Orleanian transplanted to Los Angeles, watched this episode, his first, and texted me.

Yeah, i was on the verge of tears. Strange to watch the show. So many personal events presented as ‘material’. Seems almost violative.

I was put in mind of the scene from last season, where a busload of tourists gawk at a Mardi Gras Indian ceremony. I never had a problem with the “disaster tours.” I welcomed them. I figured they would help get the word out, about what happened here. That scene made me see the other side of the argument, the objection to the objectification of our sorrow. And it was so much more than an intellectual exercise. I felt that one in my gut.

Ironically, Treme itself is something of a tourist bus, transforming New Orleans into a spectacle to be consumed. I understand all that, and I understand why people find it objectionable. And yet still, at the end of the day, I’m a fan. All I can say in defense of that is that we’re already well inside the spectacle economy, regardless, and that this show’s writing and (relatively) sophisticated viewership mean the essential humanity of the subject still has a chance to get communicated.

That was abundantly obvious to me when I gave a greenway tour to a bunch of out-of-town conventioneers. We walked past the old Winn-Dixie, still vacant but re-blazoned “Robideaux’s Market.”


I explained they may have seen this on HBO a few weeks ago. (Walking in the Tremé, talking about Treme.) Turned out there were several loyal viewers in my group, and as we talked it was clear their interest and curiosity about New Orleans was stoked by the show. I think that’s good for the city.

Moreover I think good art is good for us all, and I think Treme rises to that description.

Ultimately it’s still just a TV show, of course. It’s up to us to make our city vibrant and viable. That should go without saying. A TV show is no replacement for a decent economy, good educational opportunities and public safety. These three things are intimately connected, and it seems to me the writers of Treme clearly see that, and so again I think it’s all for the best. I feel they are telling our story and telling it well.

Beyond all those issues, there’s the question of representing details from lives we’ve lost. Real people, not fictional characters. This is sensitive stuff, and I’m sure different people will see it differently. If Nakita’s performance was any indication, it would seem Dinerral’s family has made their peace with his story being told in this venue. I hope Helen’s family feels the same way.

Post Scriptum: When I got home I found five or six loaves of really good bread in our refrigerator. I guess DJ came by and dropped them off while I was watching the show. I posted up a tweet about it. Then I started getting a barrage of marginally coherent expletive-laced mini-rants attacking Treme from a local blogger I’m not sure I’ve ever even met. I don’t have room for that kind of mess in my life, so I blocked him, or her, or whatever.

Update: I was remiss not to include a link to, where you can learn the latest about The Florestine Collection, Helen’s last film, now finished by her husband Paul.

Helen Hill Birthday Fundraiser

Helen & Rosie

Of course I will be hiking Saturday morning, and I encourage all to come with us, but there’s another event that deserves your attention. The aim is to raise the funds necessary to finish Helen Hill’s final film. The hike may preclude my attendance, but I’ll be showing a video there featuring Helen — the vegan lunch segment from ROX #90.

Read on for event details.

DATE: Saturday May 8th
HOURS:  Two shows:  3pm and 9:30 pm
LOCATION: Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center
ADDRESS:    1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd
Cost of Event:  by donation

Zeitgeist is pleased to present the Helen Hill Birthday Fundraiser, featuring a special short preview of the newly completed The Florestine Collection, Helen’s last film.  This one-day only event will be Saturday, May 8th, at Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center. There will be two screenings, at 3:00 pm and at 9:30 pm. The event is by donation.  Funds raised go towards finishing The Florestine Collection, to create sound and master prints in 16mm film, Helen’s preferred screening format.

Animator Helen Hill received a prestigious Media Arts Grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for The Florestine Collection in 2004.  The film was inspired by a huge collection of handmade dresses that Helen found in a garbage pile.  Helen was murdered during a home invasion in New Orleans in early January 2007, and her widower Paul Gailunias has been working to finish the film in accordance with Helen’s intentions. Sunday, May 9th (Mother’s Day) would have been Helen’s 40th Birthday.

Currently Helen’s films are archived in the Harvard Film Archive, and her film Scratch and Crow, made in 1995 and which will be screened at the Helen Hill Birthday Fundraiser, was named to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 2009.

Also featured at the Helen Hill Birthday Fundraiser will be the band The New Dopey Singers (3:00 pm), a Fresh Fashion Flash by Howl Pop (3:00 pm); and Cheryl Wagner, author and contributor to public radio’s This American Life, will read a short excerpt about Helen and her animations from her book Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around (9:30).  Helen’s DVD The House of Sweet Magic will be available for sale, and specially made viewfinders from The Florestine Collection will be given away in a drawing during both shows.

For more information, call Courtney Egan at (205) 393-5588 or Rene Broussard at (504) 352-1150. Information is also available at Zeitgeist’s website,

Scratch and Crow

I recently got word that Helen Hill’s film Scratch and Crow has been named to the National Film Registry.

Each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the registry that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant to be preserved for all time. These films are selected as works of enduring importance to American culture.

We got out our DVD of Helen’s films and watched Scratch and Crow. Yessir, it’s a gooder, and I’m glad to see it so recognized. And it’s in good company — Dog Day Afternoon and The Muppet Movie were also named this year.

A Gift from Helen

It was two years ago today that Helen‘s life came to an end, in circumstances too terrible to contemplate calmly. So we are spending a little time this morning remembering her life, and the light she brought to the lives of others.

People often ask me if her killer was ever found. As far as I know, there have been no developments in her case. I don’t imagine we’ll ever know who did it, or why. But for the sake of her family I hope that I’m wrong on that count.

They say murder went down in New Orleans by 15% in 2008. They say murder went down in many of our nation’s biggest cities. I don’t know what to make of such statistics.

We’re thinking about going to a demonstration late today called New Orleans Says No More Killings In Our Name! We are also contemplating how we might participate in the Strike Against Crime being organized for January 9.

The last time we saw Helen was when she and Paul and Francis Pop stopped by our house on New Year’s Eve, 2006. Helen gave us a present for the new year: something called an Eggling. We’ve held onto it ever since, and decided today was the day to get it started. You crack the top, pour on some water, and herbs are supposed to sprout in a few days.


Thanks Helen! — for all your many gifts to us.

Gatherers of Light

I’m nearing the end of my project of excavating old images from the depths of my hard drive. There have been some interesting discoveries along the way. A few days ago, I found a set of photos I thought had been lost, from March 23rd, 2002. That’s when I made a road trip to Shreveport for an event called “Arts in the Edge: Gatherers of Light.” I was showing a video there.

I believe this was when I first met Paul Gailiunas and Helen Hill. Helen was showing a film in Shreveport too, as was Courtney Egan. Courtney was my connection to the whole event. I rode up with Courtney and David, then rode back with Paul and Helen.

I was particularly happy to find this photo of Helen and Rosie:

Helen & Rosie

People had been telling me “you’ve got to meet Paul and Helen” for a couple years. And on this day in March, I finally did. And I finally understood why they were so celebrated by all their friends. I’d never met such happy, friendly, loving people.

It was a good day.

Helen slept on the ride back to New Orleans, but Paul and I stayed up and talked the whole way, six hours I guess.

I’ve posted the whole set.

We Still Miss You, Helen

Today it’s been a year since Helen was killed, and like Cristin, I don’t know quite what to say.

The superintendent of police was on TV last night saying that they had a suspect, but he couldn’t reveal anything more about the case. To be honest, my first thought was: He’s lying. It’s been a year, and I despair of ever knowing who killed Helen, much less that the responsible party would ever be brought to trial.

If you’re in the New Orleans area, you might want to tune in to WYES tonight to catch a new film about Helen’s life and art. I guess this will also be airing on other PBS affiliates in time, so check your local listings.

We will never forget you, Helen.

48 Hours

48 Hours Mystery will be running a show this weekend about Helen Hill and Dinerral Shavers and the general topic of violence in New Orleans.

I spoke to the producers a couple of times. One producer told me he was disappointed by the seeming resignation of most of the people they’d interviewed. He was hoping I might bring the rage. I must not have sounded angry enough, though, because in the end they never interviewed me.

Here’s their press release:
Continue reading 48 Hours


There will be a segment about Helen Hill‘s unsolved murder case on America’s Most Wanted tomorrow night. I believe they’ll be using some video I shot of her jazz funeral.

Also, Helen’s brother, Jake Hill, is in New Orleans to hold a meeting and press conference at the Sound Café (2700 Chartres) this afternoon (Sept. 14th, 2:00pm). He will announce an increase in the Crime Stoppers reward related to the case. I understand he will be distributing informational packets and asking for volunteers to help put up reward posters. Please come by.

Note that if you’re in San Francisco or Ottawa you have a chance to see Helen’s animated films at local festivals.

Helen will not be forgotten. I wonder how she’d feel about all this attention? Probably slightly embarrassed. I’m sure she’d rather we focused our energies on solving broad societal problems rather than solving the mystery of her murder. I don’t have much hope that we’ll ever know what really happened. Still, I know that solving that mystery is important for her family, her friends (including me) and the community.

Update: I attended the press conference. The reward for information on Helen’s murder is now $15,000. Drawing forth an informer is surely the only chance of any progress in the investigation.

I took some pictures:

The Media



I also split a grilled cheese sandwich with Antoinette K-Doe. Thanks, Antoinette. Talking to you really lifted my spirits.

Update: The piece on America’s Most Wanted didn’t use my footage of Helen’s jazz funeral after all. But they did make prominent use of a snippet from the vegan lunch segment of ROX #90. The highly pixelated image made it clear they’d snagged the video from the web. As for the segment, it really got me choked up, especially hearing Dave Cash performing the song he wrote in Helen’s honor. But for some reason they didn’t even mention the reward.

Update: Another (very moving) story of the press conference and a picture of the flyer at Humid City.

Update: Download the flyer from CrimeStoppers. Print and post in your neighborhood.

Story #17

I believe the story in today’s paper is the 17th installment that Stephanie Bruno has written about our renovation:

Saturday, March 10, 2007
By Stephanie Bruno
Contributing writer

NOTE: When we last visited Bart Everson and Christy Paxson, work on their Mid-City home was progressing sporadically, and the recent murder of their friend Helen Hill had dealt them a blow. Now, repairs are proceeding more predictably, but additional worries are clouding their horizon.
Continue reading Story #17

A Dream

Yesterday some friends were discussing their dreams of departed relatives. I reflected that I haven’t remembered any of my dreams for a long time.

Then, last night, I dreamed that I was at a gathering of some sort. I was talking to a woman about all the songs that had been written about Helen Hill: a song by PJ, a song by Dave Cash. In the dream there were many more.

The strange thing was that the woman I was talking to was none other than Helen herself. And it wasn’t weird or sad that I was talking with her about songs written after her death. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

The strangeness only struck me when I woke up.

Funeral for a Friend

This is New Orleans.

This is how we live. This is how we die.


Not everyone gets a jazz funeral. You have to be special. Yesterday’s mournful and joyous procession through the streets of the city was a testimony to an extraordinary woman, an extraordinary life. We will never forget Helen Hill.


Helen’s funeral had not one but two brass bands.

You should be so lucky to be so celebrated when your time comes.


I was rolling video so I didn’t take pictures. But some of my friends did. I’ve displayed a few above, by Dave and Derek and Howie. There are many more. Derek has a set of 35 pix. Howie has a set of 92 pix. Dave has a set of 173 pix. Schroeder has a set of 92 pix. Thanks, guys.

Helen’s brother Jake was visiting from New York. He served as the grand marshal. Later, I overheard him say that he’s “not angry at the city of New Orleans.” That’s a comforting sentiment, to be sure, and I am grateful he expressed it.

For my part, as a resident of the city, I am angry at New Orleans — and I count myself in that number. I am angry and ashamed of what we did to Helen. We seduced her here with our charms, and we killed her with our violence. How can we be so cruel?

But on days like yesterday, I am also proud of New Orleans, and the culture that Helen loved so much.

Update: Schroeder’s posted audio.

Don’t Forget

Helen Hill had lots of friends here, and most of us couldn’t make it to her funeral in South Carolina. So I think tomorrow’s event is gonna be huge. There will be brass bands. There will be pig costumes. There will be vegan cupcakes. Ernie K-Doe’s hearse will be there. And check the cool poster.

I haven’t been involved with the planning but here’s what I’ve gathered as to the details: It’s set for Saturday, February 24. Come meet up at 12:30 p.m at Paul and Helen’s old place in Mid-City, 3438 Cleveland Street. That’s one block uptown from Canal Street, one block lakeside from Jeff Davis.

The procession rolls at 1:00 p.m. sharp.

Route: Jeff Davis > Orleans > Claiborne. Here’s a map of what I think the route might be. That’s about two and a half miles, so wear comfortable shoes. Destination: The Mother-in-Law Lounge at 1500 North Claiborne, where there will be more music and more festivities.

You didn’t have to know Helen personally to attend. Everyone’s invited.

Be there if you can.

In the Paper

I was heartened to read a positive story on the front of today’s paper about Dr. Jeff Wiese, who drove around the country for months after Katrina and pretty much saved the residency program at the Tulane School of Medicine. Now the residents are trying to fill in the gap left by the closure of Charity Hospital. He’s a hero. I’ve admired the good doctor for some years; he is the foremost researcher into the mysteries of the alcohol hangover. The paper doesn’t mention that good work. I guess they’re pandering to those puritans from Pennsylvania.

I’m in the paper today too. It’s the 14th story or so about our renovation.
Continue reading In the Paper

Jazz Funeral for Helen Hill

This just in from Kittee:

Hey, ya’ll! We’re gonna do Helen up right with a big old jazz funeral in New Orleans. Can you believe it?

The procession starts at Paul and Helen’s old place at 3438 Cleveland St. on Saturday, February 24. The procession forms at 12:30 p.m. and rolls at 1:00 p.m. sharp.

We’re planning on two brass bands, a vegan cupcake wagon parade, and, of course, Ernie K-Doe’s hearse. We’ll head up Angela Davis Parkway, then toward the river on Orleans Ave., then up N. Claiborne Ave. We’ll disband at the Mother-in-Law Lounge, 1500 N. Claiborne Ave., where we’ll unwrap the cupcakes for an official tea party as well as shang-a-lang-a to some really cool tunes. So come on out — we’ll remember Helen and help try to put ourselves and our crazy city back together again.

For more info about the jazz funeral, email dazee at dkoen_2000 [at] yahoo [dot] com. For more info about joining the vegan cupcake brigade, email kittee at kittee68 [at] yahoo [dot] com. Helen, we love and miss you, baby.

Paul’s Plea

I haven’t talked to Paul since he left New Orleans. I saw him only briefly in the lobby of the hotel by the airport, the night after Helen was killed. For the first time in my life I was literally at a loss for words. I just couldn’t think of a thing to say. So, really, I haven’t talked to Paul since New Year’s Eve, when he and Helen and Francis stopped by our house for a visit.

I need to write Paul a letter. I still hardly know what to say, but I will have to find the words.
Continue reading Paul’s Plea