Louisiana Folk Masters on Louisiana Public Broadcasting

*Please note: this was an early draft of the proposal I made to Louisiana Public Broadcasting in the spring of 2006. I would later go on to produce two segments for their weekly news magazine, **Louisiana: The State We’re In**, working closely with Donna LaFleur. The first was on John Colson, a Creole filĂ© maker, and the second was on Lou Trahan, a Cajun Mardi Gras mask maker. The folks at LPB were fantastic throughout the process, and I would gladly do more, time willing.*

### Three Pilot Pieces

“Louisiana Folk Masters” is the title of the CD series published as a cooperative venture between the Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore and Louisiana Crossroads Records. It’s an umbrella framework that I came up with several years ago, one part of which was always open to a television component. Having said that, I am not wedded to “Louisiana Folk Masters” being the title of any or all segments. These folks could ust as easily be called “Living Legends” or, following the Japanese, “Living Treasures,” with Louisiana appended to the title or not.

The only thing that is important is that the focus is on the individual and how they embody, through the things they do and the stories they tell, dimensions of Louisiana’s history and culture that deserve a larger audience and a place in our collective memory.


STORY: Fiddler from Lake Arthur. Real story here is the Conner family, who continue the tradition of getting together and playing music which brought Barry Ancelet to Conner’s door in 1975 – VC himself was continuing a tradition his father participated in. VC retired from the music scene to focus on his family life and supported himself as a logger. The family still owns the property where the mill once stood, only now they use it as a sugar mill – where they make syrup every year.

VISUALS: Family jam session in Lake Arthur. They will, at the drop of a hat, put together a barbecue or gumbo on a weekend night and call together the family to play all the old songs they learned from their elders. David Greely, of the Mamou Playboys, is a big fan of Varise Conner and has become something of an adopted son by the family. If invited, and we work with his schedule, he will turn up. Michael Doucet actually did play with Conner and would make for a great on camera commentator.


STORY: Creole storyteller. She appeared on Swapping Stories telling a Bouki and Lapin story. She wants to teach her niece how to make soap and to teach her about the Creole tradition. In one scene we get a great aunt passing down to a member of her family important lessons about life and how to live it. While the soap is cooking, she tells her niece about growing up in south Louisiana, about going to work while she was still only a young girl, about meeting her husband. She also tells stories about a girl who gives her lover her skeleton so that he can make a ladder of bones to save her, a magic tale with roots in Europe from hundreds of years ago. Her Bouki and Lapin stories have their roots in Africa. She is a living connection back to two continents.

VISUALS: Mrs. Matthews lives in Jennings in a gray-sided bungalow with a large yard and a small dog. She makes soap in a large cast-iron pot atop a wood fire out in the yard. She can recount her stories outside or inside in her rocking chair.


STORY: This one, like the Varise Conner piece, is a little outside the ostensible frame for these pieces, but like the Conner piece it represents an opportunity that should not go unconsidered: Joseph Broussard is the child star of Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story. The feature-length 1948 film has, of course, something of a mixed reputation, since it is often considered a documentary, but really was entirely scripted by Flaherty and his crew and funded by Standard Oil. The opportunity here is the chance to interview Broussard about his memories of making the film and how it intersected with his life then and his life now – no one, to my knowledge, has done any oral history or biographical work with the man. Last year Elemore Morgan, Jr. held a series of events about the film, and he would make an excellent commentator.
VISUALS: Joseph Broussard; Elemore Morgan, Jr.; scenes from Louisiana Story itself – it would be nice to have Broussard take us out to where the film was shot and recount events in situ.


STORY: Venable Fabricators, in Rayne, make the crawfish boats that ply the rice fields of south Louisiana. The boats are themselves miracles of Cajun engineering: the wheels in their hulls along with their unique form of propulsion – a paddle wheel that also acts as a crawler – allows them to cross rice field levees as well as pass down country roads.

SCENE: Two locations here: the factory itself as well as someone operating one of their boats to harvest crawfish. (Keith Leleux, who lives south of Crowley, has one of their boats.)

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