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Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans is a riveting tale of hope, heartbreak and resiliency set in New Orleans' most fascinating neighborhood. Shot largely before Hurricane Katrina and edited afterwards, the film is both celebratory and elegiac in tone.
Faubourg Tremé is arguably the oldest black neighborhood in America, the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement in the South and the home of jazz. While the Tremé district was damaged when the levees broke, this is not another Katrina documentary. Every frame is a tribute to what African American communities have contributed even under the most hostile of conditions.. It is a film of such effortless intimacy, subtle glances and authentic details that only two native New Orleanians could have made it.
Our guide through the neighborhood is New Orleans' Times Picayune columnist Lolis Eric Elie who bought a historic house in Tremé in the 1990's when the area was struggling to recover from the crack epidemic. Rather than flee the blighted inner city, Elie begins renovating his dilapidated home and in the process becomes obsessed with the area's mysterious and neglected past. The film follows the progress of his renovation, which eventually emerges as a poignant metaphor for post-Katrina reconstruction of New Orleans.
Irving Trevigne, Elie's seventy-five year old Creole carpenter, is the heart and soul of the neighborhood and a born storyteller. Descended from over two hundred years of skilled craftsmen, he beguiles Elie with the forgotten stories behind Tremé's old buildings. Other neighborhood chroniclers like Louisiana Poet Laureate Brenda Marie Osbey, musician Glen David Andrews and renowned historians John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner help bring alive a compelling and complex historical experience that gracefully combines pre and post hurricane footage with a wealth of never-before-seen archival imagery.
Long ago during slavery, Faubourg Tremé was home to the largest community of free black people in the Deep South and a hotbed of political ferment. Here black and white, free and enslaved, rich and poor co-habitated, collaborated, and clashed to create much of what defines New Orleans culture up to the present day. Founded as a suburb (or faubourg in French) of the original colonial city, the neighborhood developed during French rule and many families like the Trevignes kept speaking French as their first language until the late 1960's.
The film brims with unknown historical nuggets: Who knew that in the early 1800's, while most African Americans were toiling on plantations, free black people in Tremé were publishing poetry and conducting symphonies? Who knew that long before Rosa Parks, Tremé leaders organized sit-ins and protests that successfully desegregated the city's streetcars and schools? Who knew that jazz, the area's greatest gift to America, was born from the embers of this first American Civil Rights movement.
This film is imaginative, revealing, and disturbing. The images are unforgettable, reminding us of who we are and who we have been. Today many Tremé residents are unable to return home and the neighborhood is once again fighting many of the same civil rights battles first launched here a hundred and fifty years ago. Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans celebrates the resiliency of this community and how they managed to carve out a unique and expressive culture and history that would enrich America and the world.
A Serendipity Films, LLC production © 2014