SFIFF ’08: Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans

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This year’s San Francisco International Film Festival features Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.

Faubourg Treme or simply Treme (Faubourg just means suburb) is an old area of New Orleans that some say is the “oldest black neighborhood in America.” It has quite a storied history.

Lolis Eric Elie, a newspaper columnist, had moved back to NO and to Treme, in part because he liked the old architecture. As he was fixing up his house, he started talking to neighbor & carpenter about the history of Treme and became fascinated. The movie is narrated by him and the film is largely a first person story through his eyes.

Some of the history that he uncovered is as follows: Black home ownership in the area dates back to early 1800s. There were early black poetry and newspapers. Some of the historians in the film pointed out civil rights activism much before the national movement with sit ins in 1867, which led to streetcar desegregation.

When the streetcars were resegregated, Homer Plessy, a Treme resident sued and it escalated in the courts until the landmark decision Plessy v Ferguson was handed down. While the political side of things were faltering, jazz was born. In 1960s suburban development brought the I-10 through the area and drugs and guns followed. The first part of the film, which was filmed over five years, showed the area starting to turn around.

Of course the most recent history of the area is that of New Orleans in general in the aftermath of Katrina in general.

As far as music goes, there were some nice scenes of street bands. Particularly brass bands, including funeral bands and the related
“second line” street/ parade dancing. There was also some gospel. Wynton Marsalis also produced the film and appears in some segments.

Overall I found the film a nice mix of history and interviews with current people. I found I could relate to the people who appeared in this documentary. At 60-some minutes, it wasn’t too short or too long; it was a good length to cover the history without getting bogged down.

Screenings are Saturday 5/3 at 1:00p, Tuesday 5/6 at 3:45p and Wednesday 5/7 at 9:00p, all at the Kabuki.

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