An Award Winning Festival Film celebrates Cajun Culture.
Something of a Cajun Christmas Cracker to tell you about. The beginning of November saw the release of a new movie about Cajun music and culture. ‘Roots of Fire’ is a powerful documentary from Louisiana filmmakers, Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi.
It takes a hard look at the assault on Cajun culture and the way globalisation and economic downturn is said to impact on a way of life built around a dying language and a vanishing sense of community. However, this is not a film that accepts the premise that Cajun culture is dying, the approach these two young filmmakers have taken is to identify some of the people fighting to keep this culture alive and focus on the positive action that young musicians, and others, are taking in rural Southwest Louisiana, to keep Cajun music in peoples’ hearts and minds and to revitalise the cultural richness of the region.
Right at the start of this film, we hear an impassioned plea from musician Jourdan Thibodeaux, as he harangues a crowd at a local music festival, where he’s appearing with his band, Les Rodailleurs. He tells them, “You either live in your culture or you’re killing your culture”. It’s powerful stuff and goes right to the core of what this excellent movie is about. Thibodeaux is one of the central characters of this documentary and it’s clear, from interview soundbites spread throughout the film, that he cares a great deal about preserving Cajun culture and the history behind it, but that he also sees it as a living, breathing thing that he is very much a part of. As he says later in the film, “This is not a spectator sport. You live it”. This is the same attitude that you hear from the various participants in this project throughout the film, and it is an impressive collection of young musicians that have assembled to talk, and perform, on camera about their music and their way of life. Unsurprisingly, the prominent Savoy family are represented, both by Joel and his younger brother, Wilson. There’s also Kristy Guillory, Erick Adcock, Kelli Jones and many more, all talking about the tightness of the Cajun community and how they work to keep their music alive and relevant and to pass on their skills to others. This in itself is a joy to watch but the film also boasts the cream of young Cajun bands and the music we hear from the likes of Feufollet, T’Monde, The Pine Leaf Boys, Bonsoir Catin and a host of others is really uplifting and will get your pulse racing. Cajun music is always good time music and this is a soundtrack right out of the top draw. There are no less than five Grammy-nominated artists contributing to this film and the quality of the music really does stand out.
The Roots of Fire project started as a way to capture stories from the Cajun communities of South Louisiana and to share those stories outside the State in an attempt to both educate audiences about Cajun and Zydeco music and widen its fan base and the appreciation of this culture. From short films built around individuals and their activities, the project has grown to become this first full-length documentary, centred around the young musical community in Lafayette, and more films and events are in the planning. The Lavois have said that they “wanted to make a film that was very music-forward and devoted as much running time as we could justify to hearing—and feeling—the actual music. At the end of the day, experiencing this music live is the best way to consume it. From day one of this project, it has been our goal to capture that experience as faithfully as possible.” They’ve certainly achieved that and more. Wrapped up in the film is a brief history of the Cajun people and their descent from French settlers and the influences they took from native Americans and from other displaced populations. It’s a great story, well told. It’s a story of language and music and a way of life particular to the region and one that many are passionate about keeping alive. If you’re already a Cajun fan you will love this film from the very start and, if you’re not a fan, you will be by the end of the movie.
That’s the good news. The less good news is that the film is, currently, only accessible on the Film Festival circuit in the Americas (we were lucky enough to see a promotional screener), where it has been hoovering up a whole host of awards – but the makers are keen to widen the distribution of the film and are looking to enter it in international film festivals and we’ll publish details when they become available. In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here’s the trailer for this excellent movie and performances from Feufollet & The Pine Leaf Boys that feature in the film.
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