Roots of Fire
ROOTS OF FIRE explores a community of artists making authentic, genuine, and infectious music. Breaking common stereotypes, we’ll see people of all ages, communities, & economic backgrounds dancing and coming together in South Louisiana. It’s a story of hope, resiliency, and true meaningful culture.
100 Days of Optimism
Inclusion StatementOur story explores a community of progressive Cajun musicians who are part of a truly American subculture that invites everyone of all ages, communities, gender and cultural backgrounds to come out and dance.
About The Project
The story behind a new generation of musicians keeping one of America’s last true cultures alive in the heart of Louisiana.
The artists in our story grew up listening to hip hop, rock & roll, and pop music just like every other American kid in the 80’s and 90’s. They grew up eating at McDonalds and Taco Bell. However, they also grew up immersed in a regional culture that has defied globalization, surviving in spite of mass media, corporate america, and a deliberate, sometimes violent campaign to eradicate it in the early 20th Century.
ROOTS OF FIRE is a story about musicians pushing the boundaries of a type of American roots music known as Cajun Music. The American part is important because people from Louisiana are often portrayed as not completely American. That idea is used to market Louisiana culture to tourists, and also to malign Louisiana natives in negative stereotypes. This film will break through that mythology to illuminate a progressive music scene that just might save a culture.
Against a background of shuttered rural dance clubs and encroaching globalization, these young artists are evolving the music, while maintaining their roots in the most organic way. They aren’t regurgitating what elders hammered into them. They’re not ironically pulling out fiddles and accordions with a wink and a nod towards pop stardom. They acknowledge that while the music has deep tradition, they feel the pull of their own influences, and that is pushing them to make great new music. These artists stack Grammy nominations, go on world tours, and have achieved international recognition. Perhaps more importantly though, they bring millennials out two-stepping on Friday nights.
This film is about authenticity. When you live on a coast, or work in the media like we do, the quest for authenticity can feel like a search for the holy grail. To put it another way, it’s a noble, but ultimately pointless quest for a mythical object. “Authentic” scenes usually reek of irony, or reveal a counterfeit facade upon closer inspection. The Cajun music community is not trying to be anything other than what it’s always been, hardworking people that want to jam and dance. That doesn’t mean these musicians aren’t pros, because they are. Cajun musicians have been rocking juke joints, dance halls, and festivals all over America since the turn of the twentieth century. They’ve adapted to every trend from 1920’s Texas Swing, to 60’s folk, 70’s rock, and up through the indie scene of the 90’s and beyond. However, through those adaptations, the foundation has remained true, built on a love for the music of the previous generations, and a pride in the French spirit of the region. It’s the best kind of authenticity, one that comes without trying.
This is a positive story, but the history of Cajun music has not always been so rosy. ROOTS OF FIRE will explore where the music is going by understanding the importance of where it came from. We’ll delve into the complex history of how it was spawned through the geographic and genetic mixing of populations from across the globe. Also, how it was shaped through the musical marriage of a black man and a white man coming together to play French fiddle and accordion music during Jim Crow. Through the story of Dennis McGee and Amedee Ardoin, the first musicians to commercialize “Louisiana French Music”, to the horrific death of Ardoin casting the darkest of shadows over it, we’ll delve into how the history of this world has shaped the present.
It is important to note that the shadow of racial injustice created two genres out of traditional Louisiana French Music; Cajun music, and Zydeco music which is traditionally played by Creoles. Even though they grew from the same seed, and have shared cultural DNA for generations, they are still two distinct genres commonly separated by race. Unfortunately, in 2018 there are still racial issues in Cajun and Zydeco music, but those barriers are breaking down. The positive racial story of Roots of Fire is that black and white people are still playing music together in Southern Louisiana. Cajun bands and Zydeco bands are sharing bills and festival stages. Black and white people are dancing together in the Deep South.
It will take a series of films to scratch the surface Cajun and Zydeco stories. This film focuses on the Cajun music community that came of age in the early 2000’s. Through immersive coverage we’ll learn about where Cajun music came from, the struggles of the people who have given it life, and where it might be headed in the future. With artists like Wilson Savoy of Pine Leaf Boys, Courtbouillon, and the Savoy Family Band, Kelli Jones of Feufollet, and T’Monde, and Kristi Guillory of Bonsoir, Catin as well as their bandmates, and a host of other musicians, academics, and culturally important figures, we tap into what makes Cajun music so resilient. There’s no pretentiousness, no hipsterism, no exclusivity. Everyone is invited to the party.
When you experience it for yourself, you can’t help but fall in love.
With our story, we hope to honor and pay homage to those storytellers who came before us, like Les Blank.
Jeremey: I grew up in South Louisiana, in Lake Charles to be exact. It's on the western edge of Acadiana, the collection of parishes (or counties for you non-Louisianians) that comprise the Cajun region of Louisiana. LC is close enough to Texas to be considered that by many, but we still get a shoutout on every KRVS station ID. Even though I was a suburban kid, I spent a lot of time in the bayou with my dad’s family. My grandma grew up in a rural French community in Calcasieu Parish south of Lake Charles. She was proud of her French language, Catholic religion, and foodways. She could also make a mean jambalaya. However, she bristled at the term Cajun. She and my Grandpa may have fallen in love two-stepping to Cajun tunes, but she was French, and not Cajun!
My maternal grandpa had a similar outlook to the extent that he cared much about that stuff. In reality he cared more about John Wayne and bass fishing, than his French lineage, but he did have it. His mother came from a prominent Acadian (Cajun) family in colonial Louisiana. She’s documented right in the family tree displayed prominently in their historic home turned museum. Yet, when my Grandpa talked about his heritage, he was quick to point out that his family was French, and not Cajun. Heritage is important in Louisiana. I’ve been drawn to it as an adult. My French grandparents were absolutely Cajuns despite their protests to the contrary. Their gumbos, crawfish boils, fishing and hunting, as well as their love of life, family, and Louisiana are all evidence of that. However, when they were kids, to be called a Cajun was a slur, to speak French in public was punishable by violence, and to be anything other than American after World War II was unthinkable.
My parents' generation lost the chance to grow up immersed in that culture. So did my generation. That’s what I thought until around 2012 when I heard about the young cajun music scene in Lafayette. I was rather late to that party, but it inspired Roots of Fire. When I was in high school, liking cajun music was not cool. When I left Louisiana for the Bay Area in 2002, there wasn’t a thought in my head about preserving my culture. Yet, like a lot of other cajuns in the diaspora, I yearned for the smells, tastes, and rhythms of my homeland. For some of us, it takes leaving Louisiana to know what we left behind.
It took me over a decade to find myself living in Louisiana again, this time in New Orleans. Now I’m not an angsty teen looking to leave the South. I’m a father raising a little Nola girl less than half a mile from where her great-grandpa grew up. I want her stomping through the marshes of Cameron Parish, pulling up crawfish traps with her grandpa like I did with mine. I want her to know about her French Louisiana heritage and why it’s still important. I didn’t grow up loving cajun music, but my grandparents did, and now so do I. I want to reclaim that heritage using the best tool I have at my disposal, storytelling. My goal is to learn and share, while teaching others why they should love Louisiana like I do. Roots of Fire is about a flaming resurgence of music and culture that has been burning all along just beneath the surface.
Abby: We may have some of the best Mexican restaurants in my hometown of Greeley, Colorado, but growing up I remember getting excited when a place like Olive Garden would open. Or, you guys… a Panera Bread! Jeremey asked me once what the “food of my people” was. “I don’t know, probably mac & cheese?” It took me a while to come up with a real answer (Noodle Kugel on my Mom’s side was the closest I got). Food brings me to the crux of my love affair with Louisiana. Maybe gumbo was my gateway, but the realization that the “food of my people” was more akin to Applebees, and that we lauded the imminent arrival of replicated blasé foodways, made me crave the cultural authenticity of Louisiana’s cuisine even more.
Ten years ago I married a Southern Louisianian. I’ve consumed this state and immersed myself in the culture ever since. Prior to this time, my knowledge of this culture was shaped, sadly, by typical stereotypes. For the past decade I’ve learned that these people are consistently maligned in the media, constantly portrayed as backwoods “swamp people” on reality shows, or typecast as “typical southern racists.” Suffice to say, on this journey I’ve met some of the most progressive and fascinating people; from a hip hop accordion-playing university teacher to a Zydeco fitness dance instructor, if you think this is an outdated, dying culture… you’re wrong.
What drew me to this project was young people dancing to the music, carefree, and alive. It was pure and authentic. I didn’t know anything like this still existed in America. Maybe after living in big cities for over a decade I was jaded, but these kids were not dancing ironically. They were legitimately enjoying themselves, two-stepping to accordion, rubboard, and fiddle music. These kids were keeping a culture alive whether they realized it or not. To me, that’s the beauty and strength of it. When young people take it up on their own, live it, and love it, it truly is a living culture.
I didn’t fully realize until my Louisiana-time that I grew up without much culture. Yes, my hometown has a beautiful and robust hispanic community, yet that was not part of my every day life. I love my hometown, but I didn’t grow up with this communal wealth of food, music, dancing, and shared history. We had Olive Garden, Target, and Starbucks. And yes, they also have Olive Garden, Target and Starbucks… but they also have Prejeans, Laura’s II, The French Press, T’Coons, Best Stop, and so many more that people will get into arguments over which place has the best cracklin.
Someone once told me that almost every town in America looks the same, a “generic America” or, “Generica”. That’s why I want to share this story. I get how special this culture is. How lucky and persistent they are - despite their history of the brutal campaign to force the region to become more American - to have defied the globalization that is painted across Generica. I want others to experience one of America’s last true living cultures, not in a way that is exploitative, stereotypical or clichéd, but one that shares the vibrant authenticity of their deep history and their present-day welcoming community.
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About This Team
Abby Berendt Lavoi (Director)
Abby Berendt Lavoi is a nationally recognized Director and Producer, receiving awards and honors from the New York Television Festival, the Telly Awards, PromaxBDA, Broadcast Education Association, 48 Hour Film Festival, Colorado State Alumni Association, and the Seattle International Film Festival & Skateboard Film Festival. She is a member of Women in Film & Television (WiFT) and Cinefemme. She has worked with various media companies, which have spanned the industries of TV, Film, Internet, Publishing, Radio, and Music. Her television credits include MTV, MTV2, mtvU, TV Land, Nick@Nite, and Current TV. Since 2008, she has successfully run, and been a partner at Lavoi Creative, LLC (formerly TeamJADED Productions), a full service creative agency and production studio. She has created video work for Google, Pandora Internet Radio, Bank of America, SFMOMA, YouTube (Corporate), TuneIn Radio, Discovery Digital, Complex, Marriott, Mastercard, IMG Live, as well as many other companies and various political campaigns. She created and produced the web series It’s a Rough Life, which was a finalist for the 2014 New York Television Festival’s History Unscripted Development Pipeline. Her team won Best Film at the San Francisco 48 Hour Film Festival in 2013. She produced and edited the feature length film, Rolled, which won Best Editing at Mockfest in 2012. She has earned five Telly Awards for short documentaries and branded content. Abby also has an in-depth background in marketing & promotions, spearheading campaigns for HarperCollins Publishers, working in the Sony Music Alternative Marketing Department, and writing and producing promos for TVLand, Nick@Nite, and Current TV. She has a degree in Technical Journalism and Video Communication from Colorado State University. Her fundamental passion is to tell creative, informative, and socially relevant, cinematically engaging stories.
Jeremey Lavoi (Director)
Jeremey Lavoi is a Director and DP with a more than a decade of work in non-fiction including television, documentary film, and the digital space. He came up in the San Francisco production community working as a jack-of-all trades Producer/ Editor on the cutting edge of tech, video, and marketing. He was part of the Emmy awarding-winning staff at Al Gore’s Current TV as a Preditor in 2007 when the network won an Emmy for Interactive Television. At Current TV he directed dozens of short documentaries on various topics including "Skating the Aftermath" a documentary about New Orleans skateboarders in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He also produced hundreds of spots for the networks Yahoo! and Google partnerships. He was a lead Producer at the web video start-up Seesmic in 2008 producing, and editing several ongoing web shows. Since 2009, he has been a partner at Lavoi Creative, LLC (formerly TeamJADED Productions), a creative video agency. They have produced multitudes of spots, working for tech heavy hitters, arts organizations, ad agencies, media companies, and nonprofits from their offices in San Francisco and New Orleans. He has created content for Google, Youtube (Corporate), Netflix, Pandora Internet Radio, TuneIn Radio, COMPLEX, Discovery Digital, ESPN.com, BRIT+CO, SFMOMA, Sierra Club, and many others. In 2009, his short documentary film "Make it Happen: Lowcard" was featured in the Seattle International Film Festival/ Skateboard Film Festival. He was editor of the documentary film "Supercharged, the Life and Times of Tim Brauch"in 2009. He was a Producer/ Editor on Whit Scott's mockumentary Film "Rolled", which recieved accolades at Mockfest in 2012. In 2013 his team won Best Film at the San Francisco 48 Hour Film Festival. He created and produced the non-fiction web series “It’s a Rough Life”, which was a finalist for the 2014 NYTVF History Unscripted Development Pipeline. His television credits include Discovery Health (Addicted: Producer/ Shooter), Current TV (Various: Producer/ Editor), MTVu (Occupational Therapy: Producer/ Shooter), Science Channel (Oddities San Francisco: Camera), MTV2 (Various: Producer/ Shooter), CNBC (The Deed: Camera), BRAVO (Southern Charm: Camera), History Channel (The Stoned Ages: Camera), and TechTV/ G4 (Unscrewed: Production Assistant). Since 2014 he has also worked as a feature documentary Director of Photography shooting on works in progress with established directors such as Lee Hirsch, Jennifer Newsom, and Micha X. Peled. He has a bachelor's degree in English, Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He was born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After 13 years in the Bay Area, he now splits his time between New Orleans and San Francisco. Most importantly he is the proud father of a beautiful and inquisitive little girl.
Stephen Thorpe (Sound and Music Producer)
Stephen is a Bay-Area based audio engineer. He started his career doing live sound and recording concerts back in 2004. Music studio work introduced him to the world of video post-production and eventually he found himself traveling the country with video crews. In 2012 he founded Din Pan Alley, an audio services company and in 2015 started a sound design studio in uptown Oakland. He does field and post-production sound for networks including ABC, CNN, NATGEO and ESPN, records remotely for NPR and travels with reality-documentary shows.