When Xavier Mass Communication alumna Vashni Balleste undertook her first documentary, The Baby Dolls Preserving Culture, during Mardi Gras 2016, little did she know, recording, transcribing interviews and shooting b-roll would extend beyond her May 2016 graduation. Director of the documentary, Dr. Tia Smith, head of the department of Mass Communication, tweaked the documentary until it’s March premiere to a full house at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans. Not only did Balleste learn a vast amount about her subjects, the iconic Baby Dolls, and their culture, she also discovered the art of learning while on the job. “I learned a huge bit about myself making this doc,” Balleste said. “I was able to fill my artist void. I always knew I was an artist and like to create and connect with people, but with this project I was able to produce something with deeper meaning. Something that would make people feel a way at some point during the film and promote discourse”.
“Any good artist searches for the ‘thing’ over and over again. Every project is like a cycle. Through the Baby Doll documentary, my purpose become more vivid to me and I knew the moment my passion for the story took over, causing me to complete the project and be present with the Baby Dolls.”
The Baby Dolls Preserving Culture, tells just a portion of the decades-long history of the purely New Orleans Dolls. Through the use of interviews with various groups of Baby Dolls such as the Creole Belle Baby Dolls, Gold Digger Baby Dolls and the Wild Tchoupitoulas Baby Dolls, as well as their family members and friends, Vashni shows the complexity of what it truly means to be a Baby Doll. Everything in always peaches and cream in the life of Baby Dolls, the film also showcases the fuming rivalries between two Baby Doll groups the Creole Baby Dolls and The Renegade Rebel Baby Dolls is also represented. The Treme Million Dollar Baby Dolls,,The Black Storyville Baby Dolls and The Golden Eagle Baby Dolls also contributed to the film.
Under the direction of Dr. Tia Smith, and a budget of $0, 2015 Xavier grad Vashni Balleste alongside associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Kim Vaz-Deville succeeded in capturing the full essence of the newly revived Baby Dolls Carnival in the film. Dr. Kim Vaz- Deville was the perfect fit as Co-Producer, being that her 2013 book, The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition, sparked the revival of these iconic figures. Dr. Tia Smith states that being and “African American woman and a storyteller, I am connected to those voices that are disenfranchised and trying to make a name for themselves, I also grew up in the inter-city and I always felt like my story could never be told… so I understand that” as the driving force for creating this piece. Vashni pronounces that she would like Xavierites to take away “that they can do ANYTHING if they set their mind to it. It’s such a cliche but it’s true…I want Xavier students to try different things, be curious about the world and people and never be afraid to take risks”
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