Faubourg Tremé is a documentary steeped in the music and atmosphere of New Orleans. And it has an unlikely Vermont connection, as Venice, Calif., filmmaker Todd Darling discovered after he arranged to bring his brand-new Burning Fuse Film Festival to Merrill’s Roxy Cinema in Burlington.
Directed by Dawn Logsdon, the 2007 film follows Times-Picayune reporter Lolis Eric Elie as he renovates his home in the historic Tremé neighborhood (or Sixth Ward) not long before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. From his 75-year-old contractor, Irving Trevigne, he learns more about Tremé’s vibrant past. Research reveals that Trevigne’s ancestor, Paul Trevigne, edited the nation’s first African American-owned newspaper in the 1860s and played a key role in expanding civil rights during Reconstruction, before the forces of segregation clamped down.
Faubourg Tremé closes with elegiac footage of the neighborhood after Katrina. A caption tells us that Irving Trevigne, whose home was devastated by the storm, relocated to Vermont and passed away less than a year later.
Trevigne’s Vermont connection was his granddaughter Gina DuVernay, who’d moved to Burlington a few years earlier with her husband Tyre to work at Body Art Studio. Back in 2005, Cathy Resmer reported in Seven Days that “the couple is assisting 19 friends and family members who have moved to the Burlington area in Katrina’s wake.” Today, the DuVernays are part owners of Burlington’s 1/2 Lounge, just a couple of blocks from the Roxy.
Darling didn’t know any of this when he contacted Roxy owner Merrill Jarvis III about bringing his film fest to Burlington, he says in a phone interview. He just wanted to find venues for his showcase of six issue-oriented documentaries “where there seemed to be grassroots organizations that would be interested in these films.”
But when he found out about the New Orleans-Burlington link, Darling arranged for the DuVernays to attend the first screening of Faubourg Tremé, along with Irving Trevigne’s widow, Audrey Trevigne, and his daughter, Ava Andrews. A post-show party will be held at the 1/2 with New Orleans-style cocktails and music.
Darling calls the six Burning Fuse documentaries (which will play all week at the Roxy; see sidebar for schedule) “films that are substantive or substantial or about something.” Beyond that, they sure vary. While Tremé explores a little-known chapter in history — a thriving African American community that predated Harlem — Pussycat Preacher, directed by Bill Day, is very much of the present. It tells the story of Heather Veitch, an ex-stripper who started an evangelical ministry for sex workers called JC’s Girls — to the shock of some members of her Southern California church.
To Green Mountain folks, the sight of Veitch parading around in her high heels and platinum hair extensions, chaperoning strippers to a church where the pastor looks like a surfer, may seem a bit surreal. A more sober film — and one likely to hit close to home — is Darling’s own documentary, A Snow Mobile for George. It follows the filmmaker on a road trip across the U.S. as he tries to find out why George W. Bush reversed a ban on snowmobiles with polluting two-stroke engines. What he discovers is a landscape of rampant deregulation and environmental collapse.
The result is a Michael Moore-style exposé. And Darling, who says he’s “had a chequered past” producing and editing shows such as “Laguna Beach” and “The Man Show,” recently got plaudits from Moore himself at a fest where Snow Mobile was shown. “He said, ‘I loved it!’” Darling exults.
The other Burning Fuse docs include Sliding Liberia, about surfers catching waves in an unlikely place; Murder, Spies & Voting Lies, a real-life whodunit involving a vote-rigging scandal; and Soldiers of Conscience, an investigation of servicemen who don’t want to kill, made with the cooperation of the Pentagon.
Burlington will be the fest’s second stop after San Francisco, and Darling hopes to find venues in other cities. At a time when distributors — the companies that normally get films into theaters — are “taking less chances on less product,” he says, many “good films have been unseen by their intended audience.” In a tough economic climate, festivals are a way for filmmakers to “become our own distributors, in effect,” Darling explains. “All these films were labors of love, and this festival is a labor of love.”
Merrill’s Roxy Cinema, Burlington,
Friday, September 25, to Thursday, October 1.
Regular admission or $30 for festival pass. Schedule below; all times are p.m.
Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans: 9:15 (Fri), 7 (Sat), 1 (Sun), 9 (Mon), 5:30 (Tue-Thu). Opening night party Friday, 10 p.m., at the 1/2 Lounge; priority admission with ticket stub.
Murder, Spies & Voting Lies: 1:15 (Fri), 1 (Sat), 5 (Sun), 7 (Mon), 3:30 (Thu).
Pussycat Preacher: 3:10 (Fri), 10:15 (Sat), 1:15 (Mon), 3:30 (Tue), 7 (Wed), 1 (Thu).
A Snow Mobile for George: 6 (Fri), 8:45 (Sat), 7:15 (Sun), 1:15 (Tue), 9 (Wed), 7 (Thu). Q&A with director Todd Darling after Sunday show.
Sliding Liberia: 8 (Fri), 5:30 (Sat), 9 (Sun), 5:30 (Mon), 9 (Tue), 3:30 (Wed), 9:15 (Thu).
Soldiers of Conscience: 3 (Sat & Sun), 3:30 (Mon), 7 (Tue), 1:15 (Wed).