New Orleans’ French Quarter is like few places on earth. Beyond the dearth of eccentric tourists who treat it as a place devoid of inhibitions, there’s the colourful locals to contend with. Musicians, dancers, artists, singers, beggars, boozers, bawlers and brawlers. Every single weekend, the debauchery is on full display. It can be a little overwhelming for anyone, let alone three young boys whose parents are nowhere in sight.

TCHOUPITOULAS follows three boys – whose ages I’d estimate range between 13 and 17. One afternoon, they head out from their New Orleans home unsupervised and take a ferry across the water to explore The French Quarter. As they wander down Bourbon Street peeking into burlesque shows and jazz clubs, we catch glimpses of all the characters that brings this section of this historic city alive. However, their adventure soon becomes a coming of age night, as they miss the last ferry home and are forced to wander the streets of New Orleans, and discover even more of what the city becomes when the sun goes down.

TCHOUPITOULAS (pronounced chop-ih-TOOL-us) plays like a bleary carnival of excess. When I was a little kid, there was a night where I got separated from my parents at the local carnival and wandered up and down the midway trying to get my bearings. This film reminds me very much of that confusing dose of sensory overload. It often becomes hard to keep track of where our heroes are, and what they are saying as they get dwarfed by over-indulgence of The French Quarter.

The film has something of a low-rent look to it, which makes for the ideal aesthetic for this sort of documentary. After all, we’re supposed to just follow along with these boys on an impulsive outing – not watch a preplanned expedition to the big city. Were it all to be captured with high-definition cameras in all of its nocturnal glory, it would have felt less authentic. The result might be a bit of a strain on the senses, but brims with veracity.

It feels less like a film that was mapped out (even though you can often see that it was mapped out), and more like one of their co-conspirators happened to have a handicam…and I mean that in the best possible way.

Where TCHOUPITOULAS really gets intriguing is the hours between last call and sunrise. Like any large city, there are people on the streets at all hours…but the ones that are still wandering in those wee hours seem like they should be characters in a David Lynch film. We end up forgetting that this night is the boys’ adventure, and start to feel as though it has become our own.

I feel like many of us had nights in our adolescence akin to what we see in TCHOUPITOULAS…just with a little less nudity, evangelism, and soul. This doc is an intense reminder of those moments as kids where we found ourselves in over our heads, and one more tribute to a city unlike any other.

TCHOUPITOULAS plays once more today – 10:00pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox. (official website)