Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, is a documentary film directed by Dawn Logsdon and co-directed and written by Lolis Eric Elie. Featuring a cast of local musicians, artists and writers, the film relates the history of New Orlean's Tremé neighborhood.
Detailing the rich existence of the oldest black neighborhood in America, and its significance as the origin of the Southern Civil Rights Movement and birthplace of jazz, the film has taken a relatively unnoticed neighborhood and brought it to the world’s attention, out from under the shadow of other areas, like the French Quarter, sharing a rich history that in turn enhances the way we view the American experience and the history of the United States.
Filmmaker Logdson and writer Elie, both New Orleans natives, began work on this project in 2000, five years before Hurricane Katrina hit. They began a process of documenting the vibrant culture of Faubourg Treme, in the hopes of uncovering Treme’s unique and hidden history. By some stroke of fate, the entirety of their tapes survived the hurricane and the flooding and devastation that followed and with renewed and deepened resolve to share their little slice of New Orleans with the world, the film was completed in 2008 and was debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival that year. The film was premiered on the PBS network as part of its Black History Month Programming on January 29, 2009. It was described by the New Orleans Tribune as “arguably the most poignant film ever made about New Orleans, ” and has been compared to Spike Lee’s "When the Levees Broke" in the level of its accuracy and meaning.
"Faubourg" is a French term that literally means “suburb” or neighborhood. Thus, Faubourg Treme means neighborhood Treme and is synonymous with the meaning of this area as not only the oldest black neighborhood, but also as a site of economic, cultural, political and social events that have shaped the course of Black America over the last three centuries. Ironically, very few Americans are aware of the significance of this neighborhood to Americans of African descent, the civil rights movement and the jazz culture that New Orleans is so famous for.
The documentary is presented from the first hand perspective of Lolis Eric Elie, a New Orleans journalist who is now a staff writer on the HBO series Treme. Acting as a tour guide, Elie shares his city, and deep love of place, with viewers. The film is a combination of pre-Katrina footage and images, street performances and archival material. The film is interspersed with interviews and personal accounts, including Louisiana poet Laureate Brenda Marie Osbey, historians John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner, and even the 75-year-old contractor that Elie hires to rehabilitate his old house in the Treme district following Katrina.
Lolis Eric Elie is currently a staff writer on the HBO series.
The film, by way of interviews, live footage and archival material, seeks to tell the story of Treme and the relevance of its context in not only Black history, but the greater American history as well.
The film follows Lolis Eric Elie and the renovation of his Treme home following hurricane Katrina. By way of this process, Elie was inspired to reveal the neighborhoods riveting, yet neglected past. The progress of the renovation of Elie’s home eventually emerges as an eloquent and meaningful metaphor for the general state of reconstruction post-Katrina in New Orleans.
Louisiana Poet Laureate Brenda Marie Osbey, musician Glen David Andrews, historians John Hope Franklin, Eric Foner and Irving Trevigne come together to detail the complex historical experiences of Treme, both pre- and post- Katrina. Elie’s carpenter and contractor, Trevigne, captures the soul of the neighborhood. His beguiling and priceless stories of forgotten Treme buildings and historical landmarks set the film apart from other such documentaries, painting a picture of New Orleans over the last two hundred years, from both a personal and historical perspective.
Before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which incorporated it into the United States, New Orleans was a French and Spanish city. A mixture of Latin and urban attitudes in the area resulted in a varied and relaxed perspective of slavery in comparison to those found on plantations outside of the city and in other parts of the country. It was common to see slaves walking freely throughout the city, working for themselves and even buying their own freedom. In the 1800s, New Orleans had the largest number of free people of color. As the city of New Orleans expanded over time, Treme emerged as a blended neighborhood, in which a majority of the inhabitants were free people of color. From Treme emerged St. Augustine’s Church, the oldest predominantly black Catholic parish in the country, and other unique institutions and ideologies that could not be found anywhere else in the country at the time.