All USM LAC students are invited to a movie screening and discussion of "Réveil: Waking Up French" in room 285, Tuesday March 5 from 3-5pm. "Réveil" is a documentary film on the repression and Renaissance of the French of New England. It’s an epic story of Maine's largest ethnic group, why they came and what happened to them.
Starting with two French families, one in Lewiston, Me and the other in St. Georges, Quebec that Levine has been filming for twenty-four years beginning in 1979, the film explores why the French were an anomaly to " melting pot " America. They kept their language and culture long after most others had lost the heritage connection. So why they are losing it now speaks to the same situation of a new generation of immigrants and whether they will suffer the same fate too.
With 30-40 % of Maine’s population of French -American; it’s estimated that today, in New England, there are more than 2,000,000 descendants of the one million who came from Quebec and New Brunswick at the turn of the century. As many as 500,000 people still speak French with an equal number who lost it growing up or later.
Why a million New England French speakers living a short ride from seven million of their French Canadian brethren suddenly lost their language is a central question of the film.
One of the most dramatic sequences traces the story of the Ku Klux Klan in New England. By 1924 the KKK had elected a governor in Maine and had more member than Mississippi or any other Southern state. That same year 20,000 Portlanders marched in a parade in support of the KKK. Levine has found actual footage of the KKK in Maine to explore who brought them here and their role in the suppression of the French culture.
Five years in the making, the documentary has a unique structure which Levine calls an "analytical documentary". It is trying to describe and account for the "emotional history of a people, looking for examples of cultural and personal emergence that can lead the culture to a renaissance." It integrates all kinds of research. From the field of neurolinguistics scientists now see a first language as hard wired in the brain, asleep perhaps, but not forgotten so a heritage language actually can’t be " lost." Following this theme, the film explores a number of people in New England who have successfully " awakened " their "lost French ". In Waterville a whole group of people have successfully reacquired their French in a pilot project for French Reacquisition. In Woonsocket RI, French Canadian and Senegalese families may be defining the New England of the future. And in Maine's St. John Valley, young people in towns like Madawaska are bi-lingual, speaking French in public as a natural part of their lives.
After each showing, Levine personally facilitates an in depth audience discussion which is also filmed and sometimes itself becomes part of the ongoing film making process of exploring a culture in transition.
The screening and discussion is co-sponsored by the Office of Community Engagement.