Louisiana Story by Robert Flaherty

Co-Presented by the Reed College English Department

Special thanks to The Flaherty / International Film Seminars

Nov. 9 + 10 - 7:30 pm

About This Screening

Robert Flaherty (1884-1951) is one of the earliest known independent filmmakers and was the creator of such classic documentary films as Nanook of the North (1922), Moana (1926), and Man of Aran (1934). Louisiana Story, Flaherty’s last film and often considered his masterwork, focuses on a young Cajun boy Alexander Napoleon Ulysses Latour and the untouched Louisiana bayou that is his home. Speculative oil drilling begins in this pristine setting showing the disruption caused through mechanization in contrast to the innocence and beauty associated with the boy and his natural environment. Standard Oil Company sponsored the documentary, so while the oil derrick initially disrupts life, by the end of the film it appears benign, leaving the natural world untouched. As with other documentaries of this era, the film was made by a group of seasoned professionals with whom Flaherty surrounded himself, including Helen Van Dongen, Richard Leacock, and Virgil Thompson.

All art is a kind of exploring. To discover and reveal is the way every artist sets about his business. The explorers, the discoverers, are the transformers of the world. They are the scientists discovering new fact, the philosopher discovering in new fact new idea. Above all, they are the artist, the poet, the seer, who out of the crucible of new fact and new idea bring new life, new power, new motive, and a deep refreshment. They discover for us the new image. —Robert Flaherty

Flaherty's notion that the documentary narrative should "come out of the life of a people, not from the actions of individuals" as part of the daily routine of his native people is utilised in the rendering of a life lived on the Bayou. The slight narrative is affected through the ripples created by the appearance of the oil derrick, making for a tendentious narrative device that recalls Flaherty's earlier films such as the hunting of the walrus in Nanook and of the basking shark in Man of Aran. Yet in
Louisiana Story the episodic nature of Flaherty's oeuvre is restrained, less melodramatic and more concomitant with an appeal to the fragility of the world initially under threat from the industrial world of oil production. —Deane Williams / Senses of Cinema

Robert Flaherty's last film is a fitting culmination to a long career. It is less a documentary about the Cajun people of Louisiana's bayou country, than an autobiographical film about Flaherty himself. From the viewpoint of a Cajun boy the film reveals the mysteries of the bayou wilderness, portrayed as an enchanting world of fantasy, filled with beauty and danger. The film is a poetic reflection of Flaherty's youth, in which he explores his own life-long relationship to the wilderness and natural environment, and to the people who live there. —William T. Murphy For more information about The Flaherty and International Film Seminars, please visit www.flahertyseminar.org. 

Program Details

November 9 + 10
  • Louisiana Story
    1948, 35mm, b&w, sound, 78 min.
  • Print made available through The Flaherty

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