Roots of Fire, a Documentary Celebrating Acadiana, To Premier at New Orleans Film Society

Roots of Fire is a documentary by filmmakers Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi about those who keep the tradition of Cajun music, culture, and traditions alive in Acadiana. The film will screen at New Orleans Film Society this fall.

“If you’re not living your culture, you’re killing your culture! And there’s no middle ground,” said musician Jourdan Thibodeaux in a passionate speech on stage at Festivals Acadiens et Créoles. This is how Roots of Fire opens, with a plea to preserve the culture in which Cajuns have taken pride for generations.

It’s a culture that, in many ways, is on the verge of being erased as new generations forget the Cajun French language, music, and practices that their ancestors held dear. Roots of Fire focuses on a group of Cajun musicians and people determined to keep the culture alive by any means necessary.

Abby and Jeremey work in video production and met while working for a cable network in the mid-2000s. Jeremey is from Louisiana, and Abby is from Colorado. The couple lived in San Francisco before settling in Louisiana in 2014.

The Roots of Fire project started by chance when Abby and Jeremey traveled to Colorado. Jeremey was feeling homesick for Louisiana and picked up a copy of Oxford American with a CD containing a song by musician Chris Stafford and his band Feufollet. Jeremey, who grew up in Lake Charles, was familiar with Cajun music but had never listened to it in depth. Inspired by what he described as a “rock and roll take on Cajun music,” Jeremey and Abby began researching Cajun music and Cajun dance halls.

“We knew there was something we could do with this,” Jeremey said. “Coincidentally, we were traveling to South by Southwest for work and Feufollet happened to be playing a show there. We met them and made friends with their bass player, Philippe.”

The band was scheduled to play in San Francisco, where the couple was living, and the band agreed to allow Jeremey and Abby to shoot interviews and footage of the shows. 

Abby was especially drawn to Cajun music culture because her experience with typical concert crowds differed significantly from her experience with groups that watched Cajun music.

Source: Roots of Fire

“I had lived in New York and San Francisco and whenever I went to a concert, I would just see people standing there,” she said. “When I was watching young people dancing to Cajun music, I was enamored by it. I had never seen anything like it before. I had already fallen in love with Louisiana and the young people taking such pride in this music added to my interest in it.”

Abby said that the story of Cajun music and culture is significant. While this documentary is about Cajun musicians in Lafayette, another one the couple is making will be about the Zydeco community. As she explained, Roots of Fire will be a series of digital shorts, live music interviews, live music shows, and other short documentaries.

“We’re trying to grow Roots of Fire into a brand that covers the entity of Louisiana roots music,” Jeremey said. “The success of this film will help us build the brand even further.”

As the couple was making the film, the story of Cajun music and Cajun culture began to unfold. Jeremey knew that it was essential to include this in Roots of Fire.

“As far as incorporating culture into the film, it took us a while to decide what angle that was going to take,” he said. “What was pivotal was the speech that Jourdan gave in the beginning of the film; wrapping the film in that tone made a lot of sense.”

Abby added, “By living the way that they do, they’re preserving their culture. I thought it was important to tell that aspect of the story because I grew up in a very different type of culture. Seeing this culture that was so unique— a melting pot of different practices and ethnicities. I really feel like this culture represents what America is supposed to be.”

Right now, Roots of Fire is moving through the film festival circuit and will be shown at the New Orleans Film Festival and Southern Screen Festival in Lafayette. The couple will also be showing the film On September 23 at the Lunenburg Doc Fest in Nova Scotia, where Cajuns originated.

To watch Jeremey and Abby’s Roots of Fire clips, check out their YouTube page.

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