As a child growing up in the Avoyelles/Rapides Parish area in the ‘80’s, Marshall Woodworth estimates that about “fifty percent of what I heard around me spoken at home – Mama and Papa’s generation, especially – was French.
“I just thought it was the language of the old people,” adds Woodworth, “like when you get old, you just magically started speaking differently.”
But as Woodworth himself got older, the musician/filmmaker noticed a change. “I’m kind of sensitive to sounds,” he says, and the sound of French slowly deteriorated away.
So Woodworth set out to learn why through the production of a documentary film, La Veille, part of the New Orleans Film Society’s 23rd Annual French Film Festival’s lineup.
Woodworth returned to where he grew up to talk to family members and others about French, which is fitting as depending on what part of Louisiana you’re in, ‘La Veille’ means, ‘the visit,’ says Woodworth,
And not just a short visit, he adds, but “a lengthier, longer, visit,” which is also appropriate, as the project initially was just supposed to be a ten or fifteen minute film, but it just kept growing with the material, Woodworth says.
What Woodworth found was that yes, the French language is struggling in Louisiana, but there are also people working to bring it back. There are folks in the Alexandria area raising money to build a French immersion school for both children and adults. And Woodworth, himself, is part of a group called TeleLouisiane that seeks to strengthen French in Louisiana through the production of French language video content and also by working on ways to make the use of the language profitable.
“I think I’m the oldest person in the group, and I’m 43,” says Woodworth, of the group, “so it’s a lot of young people with entrepreneurial minds.
“There is a push to bring back this language because language is sixty-percent of culture,” adds Woodworth, and once you lose the language, the rest is more or less just window-dressing. “And that’s why I’m pushing so hard.”
La Veille screens Saturday, February 29th at 6:45 PM at the Prytania Theater. For tickets visit the New Orleans Film Society’s website.