Synopsis: “If you’re not living your culture, you’re killing your culture.” In ROOTS OF FIRE, a group of musicians honor the rich history and cultural legacy of Cajun music. The genre’s contemporary scene in Louisiana has found mainstream success with Grammy Award nominations and wins, but shuttering venues and aging fans leave some questioning the music’s longevity. Featuring electrifying performances, this vibrant documentary examines the intersection between music and preserving tradition for future generations.
Abby Berendt Lavoi
Abby Berendt Lavoi
Director, Jeremey Lavoi: Heritage is important in Louisiana. I’ve been drawn to it as an adult. My French grandparents were absolutely Cajuns despite their protests to the contrary. Their gumbos, crawfish boils, fishing and hunting, as well as their love of life, family, and Louisiana are all evidence of that. However, when they were kids, to be called a Cajun was a slur, to speak French in public was punishable by violence, and to be anything other than “American” after World War II was unthinkable.
My parents’ generation lost the chance to grow up immersed in that culture. So did my generation. That’s what I thought until around 2012 when I heard about the young cajun music scene in Lafayette. I was rather late to that party, but it inspired Roots of Fire. When I was in high school, liking cajun music was not cool. When I left Louisiana for the Bay Area in 2002, there wasn’t a thought in my head about preserving my culture. Yet, like a lot of other cajuns in the diaspora, I yearned for the smells, tastes, and rhythms of my homeland. For some of us, it takes leaving Louisiana to know what we left behind.
It took me over a decade to find myself living in Louisiana again, this time in New Orleans. Now I’m not an angsty teen looking to leave the South. I’m a father raising a little Nola girl less than half a mile from where her great-grandpa grew up. I want her stomping through the swamps, pulling up crawfish traps with her grandpa like I did with mine. I want her to know about her French Louisiana heritage and why it’s still important. I didn’t grow up loving cajun music, but my grandparents did, and now so do I. I want to reclaim that heritage using the best tool I have at my disposal, storytelling. My goal is to teach others why they should love Louisiana like I do. Roots of Fire is about a flaming resurgence of music and culture that has been burning all along… just beneath the surface.
Director, Abby Berendt Lavoi: Thirteen years ago I married a Southern Louisianian. I’ve consumed this state and immersed myself in the culture ever since. Prior to this time, my knowledge of this culture was shaped, sadly, by typical stereotypes. For the past decade I’ve learned that these people are consistently maligned in the media, constantly portrayed as backwoods “swamp people” on reality shows, or typecast as “typical southern racists.” Suffice to say, on this journey I’ve met some of the most progressive and fascinating people; from a hip hop accordion-playing university teacher to a Zydeco fitness dance instructor, if you think this is an outdated, dying culture… you’re wrong.
What drew me to this project was young people dancing to the music, carefree, and alive. It was pure and authentic. I didn’t know anything like this still existed in America. Maybe after living in big cities for over a decade I was jaded, but these kids were not dancing ironically. They were legitimately enjoying themselves, two-stepping to accordion, rubboard, and fiddle music. These kids were keeping a culture alive whether they realized it or not. To me, that’s the beauty and strength of it. When young people take it up on their own, live it, and love it, it truly is a living culture. What I hope to do with Roots of Fire is share that feeling, that community, and that love with audiences around the world.
Director-Producer Abby Berendt Lavoi: Abby Berendt Lavoi is an award-winning Director, Writer, Producer, mother, cancer survivor, and joyful ball of sarcasm. She is the Showrunner of My Amazing Cheap Date: New Orleans and has received honors and awards from the New Orleans Film Festival, SIFF, SFIndieFest, Indie Memphis, Hot Springs Doc Fest, Telly Awards, Promax/BDA, and many others. Her TV credits include MTV, TVLand, Nick@Nite, and Current TV. In 2021, she won the Women in Film and Television’s Resilient Woman Award. She won Best Editor at Mockfest for the film Rolled. Her series It’s a Rough Life was a finalist for the NYTVF History Channel Unscripted Development Pipeline. At her video agency, Lavoi Creative, she has created content for Pandora, Google, Vox, Discovery, and more.
Director-Producer Jeremey Lavoi: Jeremey Lavoi is an award-winning Director working in non-fiction. He is the Showrunner of My Amazing Cheap Date: New Orleans. He was on the Emmy Award winning staff at Current TV where he directed dozens of short documentaries on various topics including Skating the Aftermath, about New Orleans skateboarders in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. At his video agency, Lavoi Creative, he has produced content for Google, Netflix, Vox, Discovery, and others. In 2012 his team won Best Film at the San Francisco 48 Hour Film Festival. His web series It’s a Rough Life, which was a finalist for the 2014 NYTVF History Unscripted Development Pipeline. His additional television credits include Discovery Health, Science Channel, MTV2, CNBC, History Channel, and TechTV/ G4.