Delta Dispatches: Conversation with Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
On today’s show Simone & Jacques sit down to talk with Brian Boyles, Christopher Robert and John Richie from The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. They talk about their new documentary series Water/Ways premiering next week and their other exciting projects that are coming up. Be sure to join them on Wednesday, October 18th from 8:30 – 9:30 pm at The New Orleans Advocate at 840 St. Charles Ave for the world premiere of 4 short films about communities facing land loss along Louisiana’s imperiled coast.
Jacques: Hello, you’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast. Its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters. I’m Jacques Herbert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: And I’m Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: How’s it going Simone. We have a packed studio today. I think it’s a record.
Simone: The fire marshal might come in here and get us. We love to have in-studio guests. It’s so much fun.
Jacques: I know.
Simone: We love our telephone guests too. Don’t get me wrong, but it is really fun and the energy’s different when we have folks in here.
Jacques: Yeah, it’s gonna be a good show, but before we get into it. It’s been a busy week. Right? We’ve been out and about on the coast.
Simone: Yeah, some weeks we kind of lie and say it’s been busy, and they haven’t. But this week really has.
Jacques: So you were up on a few planes.
Simone: We did. Yesterday was a really nice day. We hosted two coastal flyovers for folks. We have some amazing friends and partners in South Wings. We’ve had them on the show before, both Emmet and Meredith. They do volunteer flights for organizations like ours to help educate folks on our coastal issues.
Yesterday we were able to take some folks from one of the congressman’s office, but also, we were able to take Megan Terrell who was on our show last week.
Jacques: Our last week’s guest. Yeah.
Simone: Yes, yes. Chris Barnes, who should be a guest on our show, and Charles Sutcliff.
Jacques: Who was also another guest.
Simone: Yeah, also on our show. We had a really nice trip down to the Mississippi River Delta. Had a great day. How about you?
Jacques: Yeah. I mean it’s been busy as well. We had folks go out to the Atchafalaya Basin, Wax Lake Delta, really explore that and see what it looks like. They were
saying it’s really lush and just beautiful. Then they also went out of Cocodrie and kind of stopped and visited some of our friends at LUMCON, Dr. Alex Colker, who also has been on the show.
Simone: Previous guest, two-time guest.
Jacques: Yes. Exactly.
Simone: The hallmark of a good one.
Jacques: Right. But today, we have a really great panel of guests that we’re talking a lot about Louisiana’s culture and coastal communities. Right? So we talk a lot about the science and the policy, but today, I think we’re really gonna focus on the people, and why that matters.
Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities has done a lot of really great reporting, and they’re about to premiere a series of films on coastal communities as part of the New Orleans Film Festival next week.
Simone: Yeah, I want to get down to why they didn’t ask me to be in any of these. So first question guys … No I’m just kidding. Welcome to the show. You want to have them introduce themselves?
Jacques: Yeah, sure. Let’s just go down the line.
Simone: Go down the line.
John: My name’s John Ritchie. I’m a film producer. I’m the producer of the series for the Louisiana Endowment of the Humanities of the Waterways.
Brian: I’m Brian Boyles, vice president of the content at LEH, and publisher of Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine.
Chris: I’m Chris Robert, and I’m the grants manager at the LEH.
Simone: Okay, we usually, like, make you say where you went to high school, because this is New Orleans, but … say what you got!
John: Well I went to Byrd in Shreveport.
Simone: Byrd is the word!
John: That’s right, that’s right.
Simone: So I think I tell this story all the time, but I did student council, big shock I’m sure!
Simone: So Captain Shreve, and some of those guys up there, so I knew folks from student council. So I have all these, like, ideas of “Byrd the word.” So, Brian, would you like to fess up?
Brian: I just want to say that I like to tell people that John was all-state in football.
Simone: Ah! Nice!
John: I was all-state academic though.
Simone: Hey, even better, right! A smart football player? Good! I like it.
Brian: I went to Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, far from the coast.
Simone: Okay, so can I guess the mascot?
Simone: Oh. Well you’re no fun, Brian! You’re supposed to agree.
Brian: I’m not going to lie about my mascot, Simone. Just because I’m not from here doesn’t mean I’m dishonest!
Simone: Fess up. What was it? Was it something like a terrier? I was a Terrier.
Brian: It was a panther.
Simone: A panther? Rrrwll!
Jacques: I didn’t think Pennsylvania had panthers. Simone’s on a bird kick; we’ve had too many Audubon guests on. So Chris, how about you?
Chris: I went to Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest, Illinois.
Simone: I know, with a name like Robert, though …
Chris: I’m from here.
Simone: Oh, okay good. I’m like thinking of the whole grocery store, you know this right?
Chris: Yeah. Yes I do.
Jacques: You’ve been there? Awesome. Well, we want to dive into these films and talk about them and talk about the premiere next week, but first I want to highlight the amazing organization that is Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. I mean we’ve had an opportunity to partner with you all and the magazine on some stories. But Brian, tell us a little bit about LEH, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and kind of your history and mission.
Brian: Sure. The LEH is the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, so a lot of people have heard of the NEH. Every state has a humanities council, and the LEH was founded in 1971.
So, we work with communities in all 64 parishes to provide people with access to our shared history and culture. So we do that through our grants program, through our Prime Time family literacy program, through our magazine, and through public efforts like the Waterways Initiative and the Museum on Main Street tour. Really, working with people all over the state to celebrate Louisiana.
Simone: That’s very cool, and how diverse that must be, right? We just had a conversation before the show, you know, just from place to another in this state, it can be so different. That’s cool that you can try to tie it all together.
Brian: Yeah, I mean the great thing about our jobs is that we get to travel so much of Louisiana and find out what a beautiful and diverse state it is.
Jacques: And tell us a little bit about your background. How long have you been with LEH, and you kind of have a dual role, correct?
Brian: Yeah! And sometimes a dual personality.
Simone: We’ll get to that later.
Brian: I’ve been at the LEH since 2007. So, I was originally brought on sort of as an executive manager to the executive director, but at the same time the Louisiana Humanities Center was opening in our headquarters, and that was an event space that really hadn’t had a lot of programming developed for. So I was
literally there when I was putting the lights and the locks in and I was fortunately kind of give the keys to that room and asked to put programming on, and that kind of kick-started just a lot of great things that have happened for me, and I think in that space.
And that led us, I think, down the path to today, the Division of Content and really an effort to make the humanities relevant in New Orleans, but also in Louisiana. And so doing all those programs, you know, a year or two after Katrina, I think it sparked a lot of things in us as a council to try and do more work that really put Louisiana history and culture in more of like a contemporary context. Because it’s powerful and I think people, they need that kind of common ground to talk through some of the things that we have going on.
Simone: When you were a Panther, did you ever think that you were going to do this? You know, did you ever think that your life would lead you this way?
Brian: I was thinking about that the other day. “What did you want to do when you were 13?” And I think that, somewhere between probably a stuntman, a journalist, and a professor.
Simone: So you kind of are some of that!
Brian: And I feel like I got, yeah I think it worked out! You know? It taps into those things, you know?
Jacques: I’ve seen you go out on some air boats and stuff.
Brian: A bit timid actually.
Simone: But that’s the best pieces of all of that.
Brian: It’s an adventuresome position; it’s great.
Jacques: I mean that’s similar with us; I mean we love getting out in the field and experiencing Louisiana, right? It’s one of the best parts of our job.
Chris how about you? You know, how long have you been with LEH and tell us a little bit about what you do.
Chris: I’ve been with the LEH since 2009, January of 2009. And I started with the family literacy program, managing some of those programs throughout the state. And a need for some video work started popping up at the LEH, and my background’s actually in audio and video production. So I kind of said, “Hey, I might be able to do some of that.” Transferred over to the Division of Content, and that’s where I’ve been for the past two years or so. Maybe a little under two years. So, in addition to the grants management, I produce video and audio content for the website.
Simone: Very cool. Is that what you always wanted to do, too?
Chris: Yeah, for a while, I mean I get …
Simone: When you were a little guy looking around like that, you know?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. Where I got my hands on a camera early on, and so I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, so it’s nice to have an outlet through this job where I get to do some of that.
Jacques: And John, I know you’ve been partnering with LEH on this specific project, but you have a really extensive, you know, list of films and documentaries that you’ve worked on. Tell us a little bit about your background and kind of your, I guess, filmography.
John: Alright. Well okay, so first of all, I thought that I was going to be a doctor, until a teacher at Byrd High School told me that I wasn’t doctor material.
Jacques: Oh no.
Simone: Well you should’ve told Dr. Whatever to …
John: No, he was right, he was right. It was probably the best thing that, like, it’s the best thing that I got out of high school.
But no, so I started making documentaries in 2007, and I’ve done a few on gun violence and gun policies. And then I’ve also worked on several different kind of like social activist kind of films, and a lot of short films, you know. And so I started working with the LEH with their video work with Chris and Brian with some other programs like the Governor’s Project. And also the Rainey Project. And so we actually, we kind of started to just build a time as far as like, putting these films together.
And so, I feel like, correct me if I’m wrong, but like as far as like I felt like that as far as those videos were kind of like the inception, or kind of like led us into doing the WaterWays projects.
Simone: Yeah. Very cool. Like an evolution thing. Yeah.
Jacques: Yeah and we definitely want to talk a little bit about, you know, some of those, the WaterWays project, some of the reporting you’ve done, and then the films
that are getting ready to premiere. We’re about to head into a break so, where can people go to learn more and support and donate to Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and support the important job and work that you’re doing?
Simone: What’s your Twitter?
John: You can go to LEH.org, or on Twitter we’re @KnowLouisiana, and you can find us on Facebook as well
Jacques: And that’s for your website as well right? Or for the magazine.
John: For the magazine it’s KnowLouisiana.org.
Simone: Alright cool, y’all stick with us.
Jacques: Alright, you’re listening to Delta Dispatches; we’ll be back right after the break.
Jacques: And we’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters. I’m Jacques Hebert.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz. We’re also discussing, can you eat raw okra?
Jacques: Have you ever tried it?
Jacques: I like to pickle okra.
Jacques: Do you like okra on your gumbo?
Simone: Mmm … I do. I do. I don’t subscribe to the “it’s slimey” kind of thing. But I do think raw okra is like, fuzzy. Right?
Jacques: Yeah. It would be weird. I don’t know that I’ve done that. Or would want to.
Simone: Yeah. We can talk about that later. We’re here with the guys. Hey guys!
Simone: I think we, like, started something here y’all, like some deep reflection, and … I like that Brian. You were like, into it. And now we’re going to goof off and talk about some other stuff, so …
Jacques: Well getting back into kind of the content that you’ve been producing focusing on coastal issues, tell us a little bit about the WaterWays project. I know part of it’s the films that are going to be premiering, but also, you’ve done a series of articles. So how did that get started and kind of, what are the goals of the project?
Brian: So it really got started about a year and a half ago when I actually did a flyover with our friend Richie Blake. And it was right when we were about to do an issue of the magazine Louisiana Cultural Vistas just focused on, just culture along the coast. And I think as it has been for a lot of people, it was just a very eye-opening moment for me. And at the same time we had been doing a lot of planning around how to create content that wasn’t just living in the magazine, but that also had, you know, audio and visual components to it, and that had programming components. You know, synthesizing all that is sort of what we’ve been trying to do.
So we were fortunate to secure some funding to do a two-year initiative through the Walton Family Foundation that really ties both these films that we’re going to talk about and a Smithsonian Institute exhibition that we’re going to talk about. But the first thing that we kicked off were these magazine articles. And we were really fortunate to come down and see you guys at Rainey, and that kind of helped us pilot, I think, what we were looking to do, which was to show how communities are impacted by coastal erosion, but also by coastal restoration. You know, ways to explain the Master Plan in human terms so that folks get it. But they also realize that, you know, there are challenges to implementing that, and there are challenges for the people on the ground.
For us, you know, we’ve tried to move kind of carefully into this space and just know what we’re good at, and that’s finding good storytellers, finding good documentarians, and sort of enabling them to go out there and do that at. And so far so good.
Jacques: Yeah, and I mean, that kind of motivation of the culture is so important, right? In terms of what we’re trying to do, in terms of coastal restoration, and preserving as much of the culture as we can.
Simone: Yeah. And that’s the why, right? So, you know, we do talk about the science, we’ve talked about how that’s hard to explain sometimes. But the why is really hard to explain sometimes too.
Jacques: And we were so grateful to have you all at the Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary and profiling a little bit about Timmy Vincent, who’s been out there forever. You know, on his own really, managing the property for birds and other wildlife. And we had Zach Smith who did some awesome photography for the piece. Tell us a little bit, I know you also had one on, a cover story, “Channeling the Master Plan.” Tell us a little bit about that story and what it kind of covered.
Brian: Yeah, our summer issue kicked off the series, really. And Katy Reckdahl is a great reporter from New Orleans. But she actually knew about a story over in Lake Charles, and around the Calcasieu Channel, and the widening of that channel that I think had been a project that had been planned for a long time, and is finally coming online, but had some challenges because of that delay.
What we wanted to do to start the series off though, was to really profile the people that are coming up with the science. So a lot of that article, she focused on you know, the people at the Water Institute, and the people at the CPRA, to
really show that, you know, one, the process. But I think, two, that there are Louisiana residents doing that work as well, you know, that technical work which has a lot to do with, you know, economic potential for us. But I think that she got a really good handle on why they were there and what their motivation was. And then looking at what means to Southwest Louisiana because obviously that’s, you know, an economic boom area, but you also have this great coastal crisis, and that’s sort of the crux that we’re sitting at.
And Katy’s, you know, she’s a great person that’s able to access, I think, the human side of all of that, and that’s what we’re hoping all of these articles do. And the more recent one that Justin Nobel wrote for us in the new issue focuses on Blaise Pezold and the folks doing a lot of the marsh restoration. That’s a small scale thing, but they’ve steadily done a ton of good work and again, I think, looking at why they want to do it, you know. And also how that’s funded. Sort of extracting all of that for your average reader, that’s the mission for us for the next two years.
Jacques: And Justin Nobel is such a great reporter and writer. He did the piece for Audubon Magazine recently about kind of the barrier islands …
Simone: I loved it.
Jacques: And the restoration, yeah. How do you go about, I mean you obviously use, you guys are very involved, right? In a lot of ways. But then you’re also using a lot of freelance journalists. Do you find that it’s a challenge sometimes for freelance journalists to pick up a story like this, and kind of run with it, or have you been surprised to see kind of the product of the work that’s been coming out?
Brian: I mean, we take it case by case. I think that I haven’t said, “Hey start pitching me your coastal ideas” because it is pretty specific. I think in those two cases, you know, Katy was one of the great chroniclers of Katrina, but she also is a great person on street culture and she’s also a great person on The Weather Channel. You know, so all of those things make sense. I think Justin, you know, will end up being one of the leading environmental reporters for the next 10 years probably, if not longer. He’s just on that track. So I think in some ways you know their track record; in other ways, like with Justin he wrote a couple of other shorter articles for us that I thought, “He really gets it.”
For us, you know, you also want to let the writer do their thing, you know, and in the editorial process, you come back and say “we want to hit these notes,” but I think we’re bringing these people on because we really believe in their ability to go out there and get the story.
Simone: Yeah, I love the idea of focusing on the human side of it. I think that, for Jacques and I, that’s one of the most fun things about this show, is that these are our friends; these are people that we know; these are people that we talk to a lot, and …
Jacques:It’s how we were raised; it’s where we were raised …
Simone: Yeah! We want to bring them on; we want people to understand them. And one time I heard Bren Haase, who’s kind of like the daddy of the Master Plan, right? He said, “You know I was talking to somebody one time, an expert on diversions, and they got to know each other over time; this guy wasn’t from here, came in here, came to look at diversions, and you know, the good and the bad of it. And he said, ‘Bren, you know, I feel like I know you. I know your boys; I know they play baseball. I know you wouldn’t lie to me.'” You know? And I think that, because we’re from Louisiana, that’s important, right? Those relationships.
And so I love that y’all focused on that. Because I know Austin, and I know him professionally and I know a little personally. But like, that’s the stuff, I mean, you know, you’ve got to think these guys are doing good work for good reasons. And I don’t think we always crack that really well. Because they come off as really technical, and they’re doing their job. But they live here, and they have lives and families, and they’re invested in our success too. So I love that aspect of it.
Jacques: And you know, there was another story, kind of shifting further east to New Orleans, since we’re in New Orleans, that was really great about a lost barrier island, or the barrier island on which New Orleans is now sitting. And that kind of featured Richard Campanella who is an amazing, just voice, and expert on so many of these issues. Tell us a little bit about that story.
Brian: Well you know, Rich is a columnist for us in every issue, and geography is basically his territory, which can encompass anything. And I think that usually if there’s a theme to the issue, he checks in with me and I tell him and he ends up finding something that’s super apt. I think that’s something that he had been fascinated by for a while, and was looking for a reason to write about it.
Simone: Yes, very cool.
Brian: But it also is something that really tells you so much about this geography and why we’re also in the shape we’re in right now, is because of what the river’s course was supposed to be and how, you know, for thousands of years, this has been a dynamic deltaic environment, and things have shifted. And again I think there’s a great metaphor there, which is like, you know, unless you get up on that plain, you don’t even realize this stuff is going. You’re living in New Orleans, similarly, there’s sort of this subterranean thing going on that, you know, you and I can’t see, but it’s defining reason why we live. That’s where I think there’s this great overlap with the humanities, of that kind of analysis, where they tell us why we are where we are.
Jacques: And it’s so interesting, because, I mean, there are so many disciplines that touch these issues, right? I mean, you’re looking at it from like a cultural angle; Richard’s looking at it from a kind of geographical angle. We’ve had folks on who
are archeologists who are trying to understand the historical record and how cultures have shaped with the environment over time. So, just so fascinating.
Tell us, real quick, we have to go into break, but, how can people subscribe to the magazine?
Brian: You can go to KnowLouisiana.org or LEH.org and click on “Subscribe,” and our next issue comes out in December.
Jacques: And we have a copy of an issue here; it’s beautifully done …
Jacques: The photography is amazing; the writing’s amazing. I highly recommend you go and subscribe now.
Simone: We’re going to make y’all stay with us one more break, at least, huh?
Jacques: Yeah, we’ve got to talk about the films.
Simone: You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.
Jacques: Hello, we’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. I’m Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: And I’m Simone Maloz with Restore Retreat. It’s time for our “Fun Question of the Day.”
Jacques: And I have a fun question for you first, Simone.
Simone: Oh, god. This is my show, you can’t do that!
Jacques: If you had to listen to one song on repeat for the rest of your life, would it be Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” …
Simone: Oh gosh. I’m like, sweating!
Jacques: Or Lionel Richie’s “Hello”?
Simone: I’ll go with “Dancing on the Ceiling.” Like, just because it’s like, jazzier, right? But my real jam, my walkup song, is Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (sings).
Jacques: That’s a good one.
Simone: So guys. Favorite movie. Go.
Yes. Too much time. Go.
John: Police Academy.
Simone: Awesome answer!
Jacques:Rockers, the Jamaican movie.
Brian: Probably Mulholland Drive …
Brian: I’ve seen that, just watched it.
Jacques: I remember seeing that at Canal Place before they like, you know, made it to where you could order food and stuff, back when it used to be a …
Simone: Back when the rats used to run through it …
Jacques: An independent movie theater, or you know, we love Canal Place. Anyway, so getting back to the topic of movies, we’re talking about WaterWays, and we’re here with folks from Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities who have been producing these, series of mini-documentaries that are actually really well done, about coastal Louisiana, coastal communities. And they’re premiering next week, Wednesday, October 18, as part of the New Orleans Film Festival.
So John, tell us a little bit about the films, kind of what the impetus was to produce them, and what folks can expect to see when they come out to the film festival.
John: So yeah, so the WaterWays project is a four-part mini-documentary series that’s all about the Coastal Master Plan. And the idea behind it was that we would look at some of the technology that’s being implemented in the Master Plan, and also to look at some of the dilemmas that communities face because of the Master Plan. So, the LEH selected four documentary filmmakers, and they were Kira Akerman, who made “Station 15,” Kevin McCaffery who made “Born in the Bayou,” Katie Matthews who made “Keepers of the Mound,” and then myself, and I made the one that’s called “Diversions.”
And so, each one of the films focuses on a different aspect of the Coastal Master Plan. You know, Kira’s film was called “Pumping Station 15”; it’s about young girl’s meditation on failing pumping systems in New Orleans, and about how she comes to understand what the problems are behind that. And then Katie’s film
is “Keepers in the Mound,” and it follows a Houma Indian family in Dulac who live right next door to ancient Indian mounds that are being threatened by coastal erosion. And then Kevin’s film follows Windell Curole, who is …
Simone: He probably doesn’t need any introduction.
John: Okay so you all know who Windell is?
Simone: Just call him Windell. Right?
John: And so finally, finally, the film has come out. This is the film about Windell.
Simone: The film.
John: If you come out for anything, come out to see this film. It’s been years in the making, I guess …
Simone: He’s a legend.
John: He’s a legend, yeah. And then there’s my film, which is not as exciting as the other … No but in all seriousness it’s about the Mid-Barataria Sentiment Diversion, and it’s looking at this large project that the CPRA is going to do, one of the first ones out the door that’s going to rebuild marshlands inside Plaquemines Parish and about the pros and cons of that diversion depending on who it is that you talk to from Plaquemines.
Jacques: Yeah. And I mean, they’re all, I’ll be honest, I got a sneak peek, thank you for letting me do that. But-
Simone: I didn’t. Just for the record. No one’s bitter.
Jacques: Well. We need to talk to someone about that.
Simone: I’m sitting next to him. I’m sitting next to all of them, okay?
Jacques: No, but they are so well done, and just like, we were talking about this in the break, there are these really complex scientific policy issues but they’re portrayed from such a human, emotional, engaging, and visual place, that you understand it in a way that I’ve never seen really a film portray these issues before. And all of them are so well done, and the perspectives that they show. I mean, the one about kind of New Orleans stormwater management and pumping is told from the perspective of a high school senior who is just so fascinating, really trying to understand these issues. And one of the most powerful scenes, I thought, was when she’s out, kind of I think in Dulac, with Denise Reed, and they’re talking about how Dulac is different in that it’s not inside the levee system. And what the water management’s like there where the water just comes in and it goes out.
So tell us a little bit about that film and how she, why the filmmaker chose that perspective to tackle these issues?
John: So, I think that some of that you said earlier, which I think is correct, is that oftentimes in order to understand some of the issues when it comes to the coastline, the issues when it comes to, you know, the coastline, you almost have to have Ph.D. to understand some of the science. And so what happens is that with a lot of these films, the science becomes so dense that a lot of people, they get more confused or more overwhelmed than they would. And so I think that by having that human element you’re giving people an accessibility to the issue, in like, what you were talking about earlier, as far as like as, you see what the stakes are …
Simone: Yeah, right.
John: When we don’t do anything. So the film that you were asking about, the “Pumping Station 15” that was done by Kira Akerman, she follows a young high school senior named Chastity who’s a New Orleans resident, born and raised. And the film starts out with her talking about being a child and remembering when Katrina flooded.
And once again, I think that it’s one of those things that, you know, here is a perfect example, New Orleans’s issues with the pumping stations is a very complex thing for people to understand. And oftentimes people live right by the pumping stations and are not even aware what it is they do or how they work …
Simone: Why do you need that? How many there are, how they have to work, when they have to work, those kinds of things.
John: Yeah. So I think that what Kira did, and what I thought was very smart about her film, was that she used this New Orleans resident as the vehicle, you know, a kid, or I guess a young woman that’s like coming of age, to help with the audience, that’s the vehicle for the audience to be able to understand what the issues are and what are the problems with, the way that we pump was in the city.
Simone: Yeah, sometimes it’s hard for people even to ask some of those initial questions, right? Because you’re just supposed to know, you know, why it’s like that. And I think, that’s why Richard’s and some other stories like that, and Windell, it’s like, “Well, we weren’t always like that; this is kind of how we got here, though.” So that’s an important way to tell a story without making people feel badly about, “I kind of don’t know how we got here.” You know? And it’s a nice way to tell a story.
Jacques: Yeah, I mean, I think the second film kind of about the Pointe-au-Chien Native American community, you know one of the beautiful things there, is I remember seeing the generations, right? That are there, you know, they are boiling crabs; they are living off the land. This is just a tradition that’s been handed down generation after generation, and then they are there confronted with this future where they’re wondering, “Is our land going to be here?” What was it like tackling such a hard, personal issue for someone as that, and that is just kind of a microcosm of what’s happening in so many coastal communities around the state?
John: So, you know, that was Katie Matthews’s film, and she did that with Novac. You know I can’t speak personally for what Katie’s experience was with working on that film, but however, I think that one of the things that that film does so great is that it really gives you a sense of place, in like what you’re talking about, like seeing these families get together, you know, for a crawfish boil or a seafood boil, that’s something that is very much to that area. And I think that, once again, it gives people the idea of like, this is truly what is at stake.
So also, another thing is that framing it around an Indian mound, which is a religious, it’s part of that geographic location but it’s an important, you know …
Simone: Yeah. It has spiritual significance.
Jacques: Sacred, yeah.
John: And I think that, it does raise the question, as far as, you know, what really is truly at stake for these people that have lived here, you know, whose generations have been here for longer than anybody else’s has. You know, so it-
Simone: And are tied to the land, in a …
John: It goes beyond even, as far as like, before there were even levee systems or even a Louisiana.
Jacques: Yeah, and we actually, folks will get to hear from the filmmakers themselves directly; we’ve having a panel next Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Cellar Door here in New Orleans where we’ll ask them some of these questions. And then we’re going to air it next week on the show. So we’ll hear from them.
You know, it’s interesting because, so much of it is, you hear after storms or after events, particularly for people who may not be familiar with Louisiana, “Well why don’t those people just pick up and move?” You know, and it’s not that simple. I mean obviously there are economic reasons, but there are certainly personal, cultural reasons that really tie people to the land.
So we are about to head into another break, and we’re going to talk a little bit more about the films, but, where is the film premiering first of all? And if people want to get tickets, are they still available?
John: Yeah, you can go to the New Orleans Film Festival website, and it premieres October 18, that’s next Wednesday, at 8:30 at the Advocate Building on St. Charles, that’s 840 St. Charles. So, tickets are still available; I’d love to see you guys there.
Jacques: Great. Well we’ll be back with one more segment. This is Delta Dispatches, and we’ll talk to you shortly.
Jacques: Alright, we’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. This is Jacques Herbert with Audubon Louisiana. Unfortunately my partner-in-crime Simone Maloz had to head out. The little guy is getting a green belt tonight, so hats off to him. But I’m still here.
John: Yeah, give it up for that guy.
Jacques: That is a lot more than I’ve ever gotten. But we’re here talking to our friends from Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities about WaterWays, a kind of coastal storytelling and reporting program that they’re putting on. And particularly these films that are premiering next week as part of the New Orleans Film Festival on October 18.
And we were talking some of the films but, I guess let’s talk about the man, the legend Windell Curole. So, that film is very exciting. I mean it tracks him and his life and kind of what he’s done in this space, but also it tells a lot about just how one parish in particular, Lafourche, has protected itself so successfully from these storms.
Brian: Well you know, Kevin McCaffery has been documenting those storms for decades. And has been an LEH partner for a long time. And so when we went to start commissioning these films Kevin was one of the first people we talked to, and Windell was probably the first story he brought up because he felt like Windell was due to have his story told.
And I think what really appealed to us and I think comes through in the film is that Windell sort of touches on so many different communities that are affected. Because in the film they really traveled down the extent of the bayou from Donaldsonville all the way to Port Fourchon, and in that time he interacts with different governmental organizations, business people, just culture bearers, you know. And I think that what really wanted to see and I think what comes out so well is that this is a complicated issue, you know, and even just one waterway has all this overlap of interests and concerns and what Windell’s been able to do as South Lafourche district manager has been pretty profound, I think, as far as fighting for that community and really being a good steward of that land. I think a lot of people look to him as someone who has continued to persist, and continues to play a leadership role, not just down the bayou but also in Baton Rouge.
Jacques: Right. He’s definitely on the CPRA board, and a leader there.
John: Yeah, one thing too, as far as a takeaway for me for the film, is also I think he’s a prime example of what it takes to run a successful coastal area. You know, the attention to detail, how much he knows, is amazing.
Jacques: And also kind of that true spirit. I mean we say it all time, and it is a buzzword, but it’s true for him, I mean resiliency and just can-do. Like, he gets out there and does it and you show that it shows that he’s willing to work with whomever to kind of get it done for Lafourche.
Another important element there is obviously they focus a lot on their risk reduction and levees, but he talks about hey, you can’t just od levees, right? We need restoration, we need marsh creation, we need the “skirt,” as he calls it, which is the area of marsh that hugs the levee and helps strengthen it. So I thought that helped really show a model for why the state is pursuing the Master Plan as they are, and that 50% restoration, 50% protection; you need both.
John, so let’s talk a little bit about your film, “Diversions.” So obviously, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is something that’s in the news, is widely covered.
How did you go about kind of tackling something where there are so many interests and so much news has been covered on it in the past?
John: Well first of all as far as the actually project and also the dilemma that a lot of people see in it, it wasn’t the easiest thing to understand. So I spent a lot of time doing research interviews. I talked to John [Pesevich 00:37:15], down in Plaquemines. I talked to Earl [Melonson 00:37:19] over at Nicholls. I talked to several other people in order to be able to try to get an understanding of this Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion as far as what were people’s stances on them and how they felt about it.
And after doing these interviews I felt like I had a better understanding, and what I kind of walked away with, which I thought was the most important thing for people to understand, was to do nothing was not an option. And that this is something that’s going to help build land and that there are people that have really legitimate concerns about how this might affect their business, such as the oyster farmers out there. But that there are people that are also resident there that are also very much for it, because it’s going to end up protecting their homes.
And so, I think that what we did is we told the story in a way to where we showed on both sides. From two different people, two different residents of Plaquemines. We talked to Peter [Persevich 00:38:19] and also Alberton Campbell. And also another thing I think that was really important to get across in the film was that, you know from here in New Orleans when you hear about the issues, or like people that are debating about how to implement this plan, that you think of people being in opposition or opposed to each other, and I think that one of the things that you walk away from with the film, that it’s not that simple, that these are people that are neighbors. And that the thing is that even though they might not agree as far as on what to do or what their expectations of this project are going to be, at the end of the day the thing is that these are people that know each other and actually care about each other.
Jacques: Right. And I think another thing that the film really showed is just how many interests there are in some way or another in the coast, right? Not just in Plaquemines Parish, but across the coast. I mean, there’s industry; there’s the people that live there, and who in many cases have lived there for generations. There’s, you know, the natural resources, the wildlife. And so, when we’re faced with this urgent crisis, it’s like how do you kind of bring people together to kind of move forward in some way because we know that just doing nothing is not an option. And that’s a question that we’ll continue to have but I think it really presents that in a clear way.
So again, tell everyone where they can go to see the premiere, and then I know after New Orleans Film Festival you all have plans to show it some more. So what are those?
John: Yes. Well, the films are going to be used as part of the Museums on Main Street Tour that’s going to tour Louisiana starting summer of 2018 through the beginning of 2019, and that’s going to be at six different sites across the state. And, the films were made as tools for each site to use to generate discussion about these coastal issues. So, the idea is that they’re going to look at two films at least and then have group discussions about the themes in the films.
So, we’re hoping that, you know you’ve been talking about the amount of information that’s in these films, we’re hoping that the humanities side of it, the human stories, can kind of hook people and get them to talk about what’s going on and maybe empathize with what some of these people are going through.
Because, you know, it’s not just a coastal issue; you’re starting to see what happened with the rainstorm in Baton Rouge 2016, these kind of freak storm systems that just sit there and flood places that don’t normally flood. So, I think more and more people are going through these sorts of things. But, yeah these are going to be used to get people talking about what’s going on.
Jacques: And one of the cool things about that is you’re not just showing it in kind of southern Louisiana or in coastal Louisiana, right? You’re trying to make the case to all of Louisiana that hey, the coast is part of our state and we’re stronger with a restored coast.
John: Right, right. Yeah definitely. I can tell you where the tour is going, if you want to know. It’s going to start in Plaquemines Parish. It’s going to Jeff Davis after that. Let’s see … it’s going to The Schepis in Caldwell, a 4-H facility in Grant Parish. Old City Hall in Livingston. And the Jeanerette in Iberia.
John: It’s got a good reach.
Jacques: Yeah I mean definitely keep us posted on that, and we’ll be sure to get the word out and make sure people know where to go.
Again, if you’re in New Orleans or nearby and you want to come check out the films, next week, Wednesday, October 18 at 6 p.m. we’re going to have a reception and a panel with the filmmakers at Cellar Door. And then 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. the films are going to premiere as part of the New Orleans Film Festival at the Advocate’s office in New Orleans. And you can go on the New Orleans Film Festival website to get tickets.
What other exciting things, we’ve got a few minutes left, that are coming up for LEH? Big plans for the Tricentennial?
John: Yeah. We, as soon as these films get screened, we’ll get ready to look at November 8, which is when we’re going to be celebrating the publication of our
Tricentennial anthology, New Orleans and the World. And the reception will be at the World War II Museum on November 8, and then we’re going to have a full year’s worth of programming around the history of New Orleans supported by this book.
Jacques: That’s awesome. It’s going to be a great year, and I mean, a great for you all I’m sure. What better organization to help celebrate the culture and history of Louisiana than the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities?
So thank you all for being on, thank you for these films.
John: Thank you.
Jacques: Thank you.
Brian: Thank you for having us.
Jacques: And one more time, where can people go to support Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities?
Jacques: Awesome. Well thanks again for a great show. We’ll be on next week and you’ll be hearing from the filmmakers themselves from the panel discussion that we’re going to have on Wednesday. Thanks for listening; this is Delta Dispatches. You can listen and subscribe at DeltaDispatches.org. Have a great week.