A Documentary Depicts the Rebirth of French in Louisiana

A pair of French teachers have spent two years following the key players in the rebirth of the French language in Louisiana, including teachers, activists, politicians, students and parents. The duo’s resulting documentary, “Theo’s Choice,” will be released in the United States next spring.

Théodore Brode is one of the rare French teacher from Louisiana. He is part of the Louisianan generation that discovered the French language in Canada. His ancestors were Francophone Acadians and Creoles, but the 28-year-old grew up speaking English due to a law that outlawed French in Louisiana for almost 40 years. A 1964 amendment to the state’s constitution, followed by the 1968 creation of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), provided the drive needed to launch the first dual-language classes. However, the majority of teachers working in the 32 immersion schools currently available in Louisiana are actually from Quebec, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Haiti and Cameroon.

Théodore Brode has been employed for two years by Myrtle Place Elementary School in Lafayette, west of New Orleans. He studied French at the Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia, the historical birthplace of the French community in North America, and his story is the starting point for Theo’s Choice, a documentary about the rebirth of French in Louisiana.

The professional and economic advantages of speaking French

“Théo is fighting to uncover his identity and transmit this heritage to his students,” says Thomas Cauvin, a former professor of history at the University of Louisiana who codirected the movie with Mikael Espinasse. “He’s a standard-bearer for this young generation of Louisianan teachers and activists who want to preserve the French language in their state and make it useful.”

The main role of the CODOFIL, as Thomas Cauvin puts it, was to “preserve a language and culture in danger of disappearing.” But since the 1990s, the boom in French has mainly been carried by tourism and international trade. “The new generation of Francophone activists focuses on the usefulness of the French language, with all its professional advantages and positive effects on local economies.”

Through their interviews with the head of the Department of Education, the Francophile senator Eric LaFleur, the Cajun poet Zachary Richard, former CODOFIL directors, and numerous teachers and parents of students, the two filmmakers have showcased the strength of bilingualism both in Louisiana and abroad.

The documentary is currently in post-production, and will be released in March in North America and in Europe. Thomas Cauvin and Mikael Espinasse are counting on Francophone film festivals in Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and France to distribute their movie, which will also be available online for free in September 2018.

  • So excited about this film, as a Francophile who is married to a man from France. We have three children in a language immersion school in the Atlanta suburbs. We speak French and English at home and I’m really looking forward to sharing this documentary with my family.

  • I’m thrilled to see this documentary and to believe that French is undergoing a revival in Louisiana. My Cajun father was beaten in school to stop him from speaking French, so he did not teach us his children his native tongue. It makes me so sad what was done to our people but films like this one can save our beautiful language and culture by making people aware of what we are losing.

  • Being from New Orleans I always heard of past family members speaking French so I decided to enroll my kids in a French Immersion program and once my children were older we moved to Orleans, France. The city in which New Orleans is named after. I am very happy that my kids are growing up fluent in French.

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