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 premiere in Lafayette, Louisiana on January 26, 2018.
© Mi KL/Vimeo

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 at Lafayette 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 premiere on January 26, 2018 at the Cinema on the Bayou film festival in Lafayette, Louisiana. 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.