By Despina Williams Parker
A documentary showcasing the unlikely union between Voodoo and Christianity in New Orleans’ culture has earned digital media and journalism lecturer Thomas Cznarty a Telly Award.
“Uneasy Sisters: Voodoo and Christianity in New Orleans,” which Cznarty co-directed with executive producer Casey Grayson, earned the bronze Telly in the online video category. The Telly Awards were founded in 1978 to honor excellence in local, regional and cable television commercials, and has since expanded to include television programs and non-broadcast productions.
“The Telly Awards are very important because the award is given out by industry professionals, and that recognition for the film might help it possibly get broadcast,” said Cznarty, who is shopping the film to a New Orleans PBS affiliate, with hopes for a broadcasting deal.
The documentary debuted at New Paltz on April 24, 2014, as a featured selection of the annual Communication and Media Week. The screening was followed by a question and answer session with the documentary’s star, Ava Kay Jones, one of New Orleans’ most prominent Voodoo and Yoruba priestesses.
Like other Africa-descended residents of New Orleans, Jones has synthesized elements of Catholicism, Voodoo and Yoruba into a creole spiritual practice. In the documentary, she hoped to dispel the myth that Voodoo, which was brought to America by African slaves, is a dark religion incompatible with the teachings of the Old and New Testaments.
Jones agreed to star in the film without compensation, and provided a glimpse into a religion that is closely guarded by practitioners. “She felt that Voodoo had been marginalized in the media and in Hollywood for decades. She wanted to show that Voodoo could be for good. To have her in our documentary really lent it credibility,” said Cznarty.
Cznarty will follow up his award-winning work with two new documentaries slated to begin filming this summer: an examination of homelessness in Ulster and Orange Counties and a short film on the Gardiner distillery, Tuthilltown Spirits.