Monique Verdin and Sharon Linezo Hong

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Monique Verdin and Sharon Linezo Hong

At 18-years-old, Monique Verdin (Houma) never intended to make a film for PBS. She wanted to return to her family’s ancestral home in southeastern Louisiana to document and preserve the traditional Houma ways of her grandmother. Upon arrival, events unfurled that would forever change the lives of Verdin, her family and their beloved home. My Louisiana Love is Verdin’s story of love, loss and life in the wetlands of southeastern Louisiana.

“I did not intend to make a film about some of the most intimate and tragic moments of my life,” said Verdin, who is also the co-producer and co-writer of My Louisiana Love.

As a small child, Verdin lived in the wetlands of southeastern Louisiana, home of the Houma Nation, a non-federally recognized Native American tribe.

Verdin’s grandmother, Matine, lived next door.  Matine often cared for Verdin while her parents were away at work.  They formed a close relationship.

“We’ve always had a super-strong connection,” Verdin said.

When Verdin was five, her parents divorced. She moved with her mother and two siblings to Pensacola Beach, Florida. Verdin would spend the rest of her childhood dreaming of Louisiana, her beloved home.

“I felt like my mother took me into exile,” Verdin said. “From being five years old, I vowed that when I was old enough I would come back [to Louisiana].”

To be close to her father and family, the then 18-year-old Verdin returned to Louisiana to live with her grandmother southeast of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish.

“If you think of Louisiana as a boot, I live in the big toe,” she said.

Cherishing their time together, Verdin began photographing and filming Matine’s traditional Houma way of life, and her intricate connection to the natural world. Matine collects rainwater for drinking and bathing and lives by the cycle of the moon, Verdin said in the film. She plants her garden when the moon is full, and cuts her hair when the moon is new. Verdin wanted to document her grandmother’s unique existence before it fades with time.

“I had a feeling these ways might disappear, so I started documenting them,” Verdin said in the film.

Verdin also began documenting the man-made environmental damage to southeast Louisiana caused by the natural gas and oil industries. Verdin’s cousin, Clarice Friloux, has been involved in a legal battle to stop oil companies from dumping oil waste near her house.      

While documenting life in southeast Louisiana, Verdin met Mark Krasnoff on a New Orleans dancefloor. An actor, artist, activist and lifelong New Orleans resident, Krasnoff introduced himself as a “Cajun-Choctaw-Jew.” They bonded over their mutual love for Louisiana.  

As Verdin’s relationship with Krasnoff grew, he became a part of her personal film project.  Together, they began talking about formalizing their film into a documentary about the Houma Nation in modern day Louisiana. While working together and falling in love, their other love--their Louisiana Love--was about to suffer a serious blow.

Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana in August 2005. The costliest natural disaster in American history, Katrina devastated St. Bernard Parish.  Virtually all of the parish was flooded with 8 to 12 feet of water.  Over 100 people died.

As Verdin and Krasnoff turned their camera to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, their film took on a new purpose. Incensed by the lack of government response to people desperately in need of assistance, Krasnoff saw the film as a vehicle to expose the injustice around him.

“He was definitely on a mission,” said Verdin’s best friend Sharon Linezo Hong, director, co-producer and co-writer of My Louisiana Love.  

Verdin and Hong grew up together in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Not until after moving away from each other--Verdin to Louisiana, Hong to the west coast--did they grow close as friends. During Hong’s visits to Louisiana, she came to know Verdin’s family, especially Matine.  

“Throughout our friendship I’ve always cared a lot about her grandmother and her family,” Hong said.

Although not originally involved in Verdin’s film, Hong would later play a pivotal role in My Louisiana Love.   

The hopelessness in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina took a psychological and physical toll on Louisianians, including Verdin and the people she loved. Her father’s health declined precipitously. He died from a failing liver. Suffering from the deep psychological damage that resulted from the devastation, Krasnoff fell into a deep depression. He took his own life in 2006.

At the second-line jazz funeral for Krasnoff, Verdin passed the camera to Hong. Not wanting the story to die with him, Verdin and Hong began to see My Louisiana Love as a documentary with a purpose.  

Due to the emotional weight of the story, Hong took charge of the project. Verdin handed over the 60 hours of footage she and Krasnoff had shot.

“It was a heavy, heavy responsibility,” Hong said.   

“Handing over the tapes to Sharon has been like handing her my diary,” Verdin said. “There is no one else that I would trust with that kind of material.”

Despite being a self described film junkie, Hong had no prior filmmaking or film school experience.  

“I was totally naive to the process,” Hong said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

For Hong and Verdin, My Louisiana Love was their first documentary film.   
In April 2010, Hong and Verdin neared the end of editing. While contemplating how to end their film, the BP oil spill disaster occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing another round of environmental devastation on southeast Louisiana and the gulf.  The oil spill created a new set of challenges for Verdin, her family and the entire population of southeast Louisiana to cope with.

“Through this personal story of my life, it (the film) ends up bearing witness to the reality of what Houma people and the people of southeast Louisiana living in the Mississippi River Delta are experiencing,” Verdin said. “I’m hoping that our culture survives and is able to be resilient.”

Written by Ben Kreimer.

Interviews conducted and edited by Ben Kreimer.

 
 

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