The legendary New Orleans produce vendor at the center of a documentary short set to be screened this week at Sundance needs a new truck.
For nearly 40 years, Arthur Robinson -- better known to residents of the French Quarter, the Ninth Ward and Marigny as "Mr. Okra" -- has tooled around town in a hand-painted pick-up, emblazoned with slogans such as "All is fresh" and "Be nice or leave."
"His truck is not running anymore," confirms Mr. Okra's executive producer, André A. Jones. "We're trying to raise money to buy him a new one."
While a truck's essential to Robinson's line of work, which he inherited from his father, Jones says his charisma has been his most important asset. Robinson's sing-song patter advertising his fruit and vegetable selection, broadcast over a truck-mounted P.A. system, is so beloved in the Crescent City that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last year invited him to hawk his wares at its shows.
"He's really a very special person," Jones says. "He's like a teddy bear."
A teddy bear with fairly mature interests: Times-Picayune film critic Mike Scott praises director T.G. Herrington for letting "Mr. Okra reveal himself in his own words, as he talks about how much he loves women, about how much he loves food, about how much he loves women with food."
The documentary is one of just 70 shorts Sundance selected from 6,000 submissions, and among the few films promised a spot on the festival's YouTube channel. Although Jones hopes the exposure will lead to a flood of checks for the film company's newly established Okra Truck Fund, Robinson's future isn't riding solely on the generosity of donors: He was given a financial stake in the film, which Jones says he hopes is next headed to Cannes.