His experiences with family in Avoyelles are largely responsible for his award-winning short film and documentary, "La Veille," about the need to preserve the Louisiana French language.
Avoyelles French influence inspires award-winning documentary
Marshall Woodworth was like many children who grew up in the last gasp of the 20th Century, being forced to divide his affections and his time between two homes.
For Woodworth, one of those homes was in Alexandria and the other was in Marksville. The influence of the latter is now a driving force in his professional life.
Woodworth is the son of Alayne Mayeux of Marksville. He now lives in New Orleans but was once again visiting his “other home” and his mother recently, fresh from a double-win at the New Iberia Film Festival.
His 15-minute film La Veille (The Visit) took home honors for “Best Short Film in Louisiana” and “Best Documentary” in the first of what is hoped to become an annual event. The film is available for viewing on YouTube.
A section of the short film took place in Avoyelles, with an interview with Carl Stevens in Hessmer. That interview, in French, talks about how people in this area used to raise chickens and rabbits and would go crawfishing on nearby waterways.
“Mr. Stevens also says ‘We’re not Cajuns. We’re just French,’” Woodworth noted.
The rest of the film is shot in New Orleans, Mamou-Eunice area and Cypress Island in South Louisiana.
“I have family here in Avoyelles Parish,” Woodworth said. “I grew up mostly in Alexandria, but I spent every other weekend here.”
The presence of French-speaking relatives and neighbors was more important to him than he realized.
“I see the French language going away,” Woodworth said. “When I was growing up, probably 75 percent of the people I came in contact with spoke French. Now there is significantly fewer.”
One interesting aspect of the documentary will be on how words and phrases mean different things in different parts of Louisiana.
“A good example is the title of the film,” Woodworth said. “Around here, la veille is like a Sunday visit. In other areas, it means ‘the day before.’”
He said “The Visit” refers to the way the film was shot, in an unstaged, raw, casual conversational style with individuals.
Alayne said she is glad to see a renewed interest in French in Louisiana.
“In my family there was always a lot of French spoken at home,” she said. “Both of my parents spoke French and all of my grandparents spoke French. In my generation, speaking French was looked down on. Now it is trying to come back, and I’m glad about that.”
Woodworth began his effort to save the Louisiana French language with himself, taking college-level courses to learn traditional French and also to learn the Louisiana variation of the mother tongue.
A product of that desire was his award-winning documentary.
Woodworth said he is raising money to expand La Veille into a full-length feature. That would cost about $80,000.
“About 50 percent of the full-length feature would be filmed throughout Avoyelles, not just in one area,” he said.
About $30,000 of the production budget would be for animated scenes in what Woodworth describes as a “family-friendly” film aimed at presenting a serious topic in a way that both educates the viewers and gets children interested in preserving the French language and culture in the state.
He also hopes to turn La Veille into a TV series, possibly on the Bayou TV network he and fellow-visionary Ash Reese are trying to establish.
Bayou TV would feature programs about and/or filmed in Louisiana.
“I am doing this partly to preserve the language of Louisiana French and partly to reach the young people and get them interested in the language,” Woodworth said of his La Veille effort.
When he is not working on the La Veille project, he is a cameraman, editor and photo director for other film and video projects.
He worked as studio director for KLAX-TV in Alexandria in 1996. He left the studio for the open road, traveling the nation and gathering information and inspiration for his drive to become a film director.
He decided to go to college, attending and graduating from the University of New Orleans. That led to work as a cameraman and editor for several small projects, including the edgy “We Are the Beginning” and disturbing “Escape From the Dark Room.”
Those credits led to his selection as editor of “Coldwell Spring” and “Gumshoe” films.
“For some reason Marshall has always been passionate about this area, its people, its culture and its language,” Alayne said. “My parents babysat him a lot when he was little and we always had a lot of family around. “
She said those good memories and positive feelings, coupled with what he sees as the potential for losing the unique French quality of this culture, “has caused him to delve head-over-heels into this project. He has dedicated himself to saving what he sees is being lost and has even taken his campaign international by applying for grants and assistance from Nova Scotia, Canada and other foreign sources.”