Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans

As framed in Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, carpenter Irving Trevigne's will to preserve the past is admirable but also set against a series of challenges.

Faubourg Tremé

Airtime: Various
Cast: Lolis Eric Elie, Wynton Marsalis, Irving Trevigne, Brenda Marie Osbey, Glen David Andrews, John Hope Franklin, Eric Foner
Subtitle: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans
Network: PBS
US release date: 2009-02-15

"I'd rather work on an old building than a new building," says carpenter Irving Trevigne. "Anybody can build a house, but anybody can't come in these old buildings and bring 'em back." Trevigne lives and works in New Orleans, where he is surrounded by old buildings, many in need of repair. As framed in Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, 76-year-old Trevigne's will to preserve the past is admirable but also set against a series of challenges -- from the ravages of time and weather to the callous indifference of contemporary institutions.

Conceived and shot mostly before Hurricane Katrina and edited afterwards, Lolis Eric Elie's documentary has a similar project in mind, to recover and preserve histories forgotten or actively repressed. His case in point is his own home, on which he has Trevigne working. That home is located in Faubourg Tremé, "the oldest black neighborhood in America." A columnist for the Times Picayune, Elie extols the area's longtime progressive politics and cultural innovations: "Long before Rosa Parks," he says, "People in my neighborhood led a civil rights movement that changed the course of American history." After Katrina, he adds, he felt a new urgency to gather together and retell this and other stories. Mulling over the population's dispersion after the storm, he says, "It's not the first time my community has been devastated and abandoned by its government. In the past, we survived and came out stronger, but what I'm wondering is, how our past can help us survive and come out stronger this time."

His effort takes a conventional form -- consultations with experts, images of local art (including the Tremé Sidewalk Steppers Club), and tracking shots of storm-wrecked streets -- but the stories are anything but typical. Even during slavery, slaves in Faubourg Tremé could earn money and purchase their freedom, then take up residence and work. Tremé was "different from other places in America," says poet Brenda Marie Osbey. "There were all kinds of Africans walking around loose in the streets." This challenges the traditional view of "the black experience," that is, Osbey says, "Black people were slaves. Period. Okay then came The Freedom. Period. Then came The Civil Rights Movement. Period." Tremé, she says, showed that American history is a "more dynamic process." This process is embodied in eth film by the performances of Lenwood Sloan's Louisiana Living History Project, in which actors don vintage clothing and walk Tremé streets, offering mini-history lessons to children and other passers-by. ("Is that just costumes?" a boy asks, "No," insists an man in morning coat and top hat, "We dress like this all the time.")

Historian Eric Foner describes the existence of this free black community as a challenge to the status quo. "They carved out a world for themselves," he says, "between the world of the slaves and the world of the free white planters." As these individuals blurred boundaries in their daily lives, they incarnated essential political, economic, and cultural risks. "The very existence of a free black population," observes John Hope Franklin, "was a threat to the institution of slavery." And so, many nearby slave owners endeavored to keep activities in Tremé out of sight, if not to shut down those activities altogether. Writer Kalamu ya Salaam reports that when a number of slaves escaped a plantation and initiated a march in New Orleans, the U.S. military put down the rebellion -- and to ensure the point was made, executed the rebels' leaders and put their heads on spikes in Congo Square, at the city's center.

Photos of these and other atrocities (lynchings, beatings) are set alongside images of celebration and defiance dancing and music-making in the same urban streets, forms of self-expression that look forward to jazz. Over 100 years before the Harlem Renaissance, such acts of resistance helped to conjure and maintain a sense of community against horrific odds. The next historical steps -- through Reconstruction, Plessy v Ferguson, and community-destroying "urban planning" in the 1960s -- were equally traumatic, and yet, Faubourg Tremé reveals, this community supported the nation's first black daily newspaper, published by Irving Trevigne's great great uncle Paul. The paper agitated for multiple causes, including integrated public transportation in New Orleans and the election of black representatives to the legislature.

If these stories have been lost to mainstream history, Elie's film brings them back into focus. His house, and Trevigne's work on it, provides an apt metaphor for this process. "Every broken thing we fixed," Elie says, "Every room we finished, was my way of honoring the people who lived here before me." Though Katrina and the Bush Administration's abuses surely augmented the challenges ahead, they also helped to fortify the spirit of Tremé.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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