The HBO Series Treme has placed New Orleans and its culture and people into the spotlight of the public imagination. But as this fictional Treme is broadcast across the airwaves, a documentary film called Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans speaks of a community with a storied past.
New Orleans: A Cultural Jewel
The dissonant sounds of brass bands blare through neighborhoods and the savory scent of red beans spiced just right blend with sweet palate pleasing pralines. This is the gumbo of senses and people that make New Orleans a living museum. It is a city where antiquity meets modernization; a marriage of traditions steeped in history.
An important part of that history is Treme, which is the oldest African-American neighborhood in America. Treme, like many other areas of the Crescent City, is experiencing a fight for its cultural life. As newly arrived people transform Treme from the close knit community which created such storied figures as: Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton and Trombone Shorty, many locals wonder what will happen to Treme and the traditions which made New Orleans such a special place?
Treme... The Story of Black New Orleans
Former Times-Picayune columnist and Treme resident Lolis Eric Elie along with Dawn Logsdon daughter of the late historian Joseph Logsdon and executive producers Stanley Nelson, Lucie Faulknor and renowned trumpeter Wynton Marsalis have produced a gripping documentary about the history of this cultural jewel nestled outside of the French Quarter entitled Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.
For Elie Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans is a labor of love; a love of a people, a city and a neighborhood. Elie says of the film, "We have lost a lot as a result of the federal levees failing and the city being flooded. It helps us to understand what has been lost; it is also to remind us that the process of destruction of the history of the architecture, and the legacy began long before the Hurricane Katrina, so this film is an attempt to revitalize interest in our city."
Elie also states that they wanted to do a film that would put the storm's experience in a historical context, but balance it with a portrait that would celebrate New Orleans.
Elie says it has been an uphill climb but the film has been receiving rave reviews and critical acclaim including several awards, "In terms of an independent film the first hurdle is to get accepted in major film festivals. So we had our debut at Tribeca which is one of the most important film festivals in the world."
Elie continues, "In addition to winning Awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Martha's Vineyard Black Film Festival we realized that not only were we telling an important story but we were telling it well... We were reaching people both intellectually and emotionally."
Elie narrates and stars in the film serving as a tour guide of sorts taking the viewer on a historical journey from the beginnings to present day Treme. In the film he interviews notable residents, who speak about important events that have occurred in the Treme community. Following Hurricane Katrina Elie feels a lot of what's going on mirrors what happened in the 19th century, "... The city is undergoing a reconstruction, but this is the second reconstruction (post-Civil War being the first)."
Elie explains, "When you look at the issues you see a lot of the same things, and what we argue in the film is that the failure to address these issues appropriately after the Civil War is linked directly to people being stuck in the Superdome unable to help themselves... Our hope is that the film becomes part of the discussion about how we can move forward in such a way as to include all New Orleanians in the recovery and rebuilding of our city."
He says of the film, in addition to serving as a historical piece, it is a statement about the country and its promise of liberty, justice and freedom to all Americans. States Elie, "We talk about in the film the promise that America had at that point to really bring democracy into practice for the first time and the country failed. (After Hurricane Katrina) we have a similar opportunity to remake schools, remake housing and voting rights and all those issues were crucial in the 1860's and 70's.... Our film attempts to make that comparison and the film is an appeal to our state and our nation not to make the same mistakes again."
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Edwin Buggage is Editor-in-Chief of the Louisiana Data News Weekly.
Photo from the San Francisco International Film Festival website.