Water Like Stone: A Portrait of a Louisiana Fishing Village
by Ashley Bertholot
In Louisiana, coastal life defines a large part of our culture and heritage. Much of the state’s economy is run off of the fisheries and natural resources that serve as its southernmost boundary. But in many communities along the Bayou State’s rapidly disappearing wetlands, life outside the levees is in danger of slipping away with the sediment. Two Louisiana faculty are producing a documentary called “Water Like Stone,” which chronicles life in the community of Leeville, La., in its slow, losing battle against erosion, but providing a historical testament to the strength of its people.
“The people and the physical place are both vanishing away,” said Zack Godshall, LSU Filmmaker-in-Residence. “That’s the reason we chose to make this film. Leeville won’t continue to exist as it is. It will have to change.”
Though the community’s primary role is as a fishing village, the oil and gas industry has definitely had an impact in the area over the years, which contributes to its changing identity. Being bypassed by industry has left scars.
“We shouldn’t be surprised that the community is changing,” said Michael Pasquier, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at LSU. “South Louisiana is accustomed to change. The problem is that Leeville is in danger of becoming uninhabitable because of sea-level rise, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, and land loss.”
According to the filmmakers, the people of Leeville understand the possible fate of their community.
“Change will not take place over night,” said Pasquier. “It is a long, slow process of environmental degradation that is punctuated by hurricanes and floods.” Pasquier added, “There aren’t many young people left in the community, and the decision-makers about coastal conservation and preservation don’t live there, either. They live in places like Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C. Difficult decisions are made every day.”
“Water Like Stone” looks at the stories of around 15 different families and individuals, tracking their experiences through a patchwork of mosaics and vignettes.
“We provide a glimpse of what it was, but also what it will be,” said Godshall.
Godshall and Pasquier have already screened the film before a small audience of LSU faculty and administrators, receiving extremely positive responses. The team expects to have the film completed by the beginning of 2013, accompanied by a score performed by musicians at the LSU School of Music.
“As a historian, it’s difficult to project into the future like this,” said Pasquier. “But if land loss projections are correct, then it’s very possible that we’re making a film about a place that will not be.”
Problems faced by communities fighting coastal erosion are often politically-framed instead of being grounded in the human experience, which sometimes makes them divisive instead of cooperative, effectively lessening the chance of cohesive action being taken.
“What’s the hope? We want to share this story with as many people as possible,” said Godshall. “You make something because you feel strongly about it. We want to move beyond the common topical issues and get to the people. We want viewers to feel something.”
For more information, visit www.waterlikestonefilm.com .