ART CULTURE AND COMMUNITY
For art, culture and community information contact:
Julia Schulz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Waking Up French is a documentary-driven, interactive public media model that has evolved within the Franco-American communities of rural New England. It is a regional, grass-roots model for addressing critical issues of French heritage, language, and culture that leads to new community cultural and economic initiatives.
BACKGROUND: Very briefly, one million French-speaking Catholic Canadians flooded into New England's mill cities at the turn of the century. Still connected to nearby Quebec, they preserved their language and culture. This precipitated fear among Protestant elites that they would lose control economically, culturally, and finally politically. A systematic campaign of cultural elimination of the French language and Catholic religion made use of the Ku Klux Klan, mob violence, exclusionary laws in schools, and attacks on the leadership of the French Church. The stigmatization of the public expression of French cultural identity left in its wake an archipelago of once-bilingual now culturally-dispirited, economically- and socially-depressed communities from Maine to Connecticut, suffering an additional "brain drain" of its young people.
ART, ISSUES AND ACTION: We make a cinema out of any community space that is safe for our constituency. We recreate a traditional French-Canadian atmosphere using music to stimulate collective recognition of French-Canadian social feeling and community values and identity. We start with documentary films by Ben Levine and from Quebec. Exposure to the language and culture releases in the audience deep feelings, which a facilitated discussion afterwards helps clarify as issues and choices addressable by individuals. What we see is a collective desire to see French heritage and language become a part of the community again. We explore core issues of language and cultural identity, conflicting generational identities which exclude the young, and personal transformation achieved through reconnection to a repressed culture and language. This then becomes an art-organized process where traditional Franco culture is both made visible again and reinterpreted to embrace new values such as self-criticism, societal critique, creating new tools for communication between generations. We videotape the discussions, and edited feedback is shared within the community to break down barriers of isolation, creating an ongoing cycle of documentation and evaluation that contributes to networking, solution-building, and grassroots leadership. To the community this process is known as the Franco-American film Festival (FAFF).
OUR PHILOSOPHY AND RESULTS: We believe that video/film has the power to stimulate social change: In 1999, filmmaker Ben Levine and Educator Julia Schulz created the Franco-American Film Festival (FAFF) in Waterville, Maine. Using music and film, facilitated dialog, and documentary filmmaking, a unique format evolved that produced important cultural discoveries. The Boston Globe and National Public Radio both reported on the discovery that a heritage language such as French may not be lost. FAFF had sparked a heritage language reacquisition program headed up by Julia Schulz that developed a method for reacquiring a supposedly "lost" language. Members of her groups not only reacquired their childhood French, they became community activists who began to create new cultural initiatives in their town. In 2003, responding to this and the film Réveil, the Waterville City Council initiated and funded a riverfront re-development project with a French Cultural Center as its core. Waterville now will have the cultural and physical infrastructure to become a gateway community for cultural tourism and business initiatives with Quebec and the francophone world.
In 2002,The New England Foundation on the Arts selected FAFF as a model for Art and Community Development at its "RE New England: Investigating Community Building through Culture" conference.
In March of 2003, Ben Levine was inducted into Maine's Franco-American Hall of Fame for his documentary films Réveil (2003), Si Je Comprends Bien (1980) and for continued work using art and culture to build community.
Today, Ben Levine is presenting Revéil in communities throughout New England. Stimulated by the prospects of heritage renewal and language reacquisition, audience members are seeking to bring Julia Schulz's French Reacquisition Program to their communities.
"The post-show's discussion was potent. You open the door to very meaningful discussion."
"The film is a relevant wonderful experience. These are my neighbors and I didn't know their culture."
"I was glad to see people taking a strong stance in bringing [French] back to their lives. I walked away from the show excited about the prospect of my own role in making French a more active part of daily life in Maine."
"I find it extremely appealing to think that music and art can be used to wake up a lost language that then can stimulate the growth of the culture again."
"It put my life in a larger frame. The history of the huge prejudice and political and social repression the film portrays helped me understand where the personal family things come from."
"The most meaningful part was the multi-racial reality of the francophone world community."
"Speaking and acting out the culture and language allowing opening in their denial and ultimately an increase in their self-empowerment. . ."
"I'm not French-Canadian, I'm Portuguese. It's good to stress the uniqueness of the French-Canadian experience, but I also think there is a universality to it as well. . . There is quite a lot in the film that pertains to other immigrant communities in New England mill towns."
"I work in an off reservation Native American Center and saw the tragedy in the people I work with but it never dawned on me that I had also lost my own personal heritage."
"The section with the Africans was extremely valuable because they are a part of New England now and a part of French history too."
"Long overdo wakeup call that unless we change we will lose our culture and our language."
"I felt such a great sense of belonging by even just being around French people at the movie. The film was fantastic! You opened up a whole new side of myself that I had long forgotten."
"You showed the film once and it woke up the [non-Franco]
city administrator who now understands the Franco reality
here and now wants to build a French cultural center. How
powerful is that. Look how it woke me up! "