I’m a documentary filmmaker from New Orleans, now living in San Francisco and New Orleans. Most of my work is about city life and social change, especially at the neighborhood level.
My film Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans documents America’s oldest Black neighborhood and home to the largest community of free Black people in the Deep South during slavery. New Orleans’ Faubourg Treme is also the birthplace of jazz and America’s little known first Southern Civil Rights Movement. The completed film uncovers Treme’s unique and hidden history and situates it within three centuries of African American struggle – from slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the modern Civil Rights Movement, to the recent threats of Hurricane Katrina and displacement.
I made Faubourg Treme with my good friend and co-director, Lolis Eric Elie, who lives in the neighborhood and, at the time, was a columnist for New Orleans’ Times Picayune newspaper. We were almost finished editing when Hurricane Katrina hit. We had to evacuate the city ourselves and then sneak back in a few days later to rescue our tapes from floodwaters. We decided to abandon our original structure, locate our characters, go back into production to include the impact of the disaster on them and the neighborhood, and reframe the story from a post-Katrina perspective.
We’ve been astonished at the range of people and organizations that have used our film in creative ways and the impact and responses it’s had. It has screened widely at music festivals around the world; been used as a policy tool for FEMA and other rebuilding agencies and foundations; been incorporated into training programs for student and church volunteers and Teach America; and screened at many civil rights, journalism, and social justice conferences and rallies. We are personally most excited that a new generation of activists from the Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements have begun using it as an organizing and educational tool, often along with a presentation/discussion session with Lolis. If other student leaders or professors are interested in inviting Lolis to their campus along with the film, please contact us at email@example.com.
Learn more about Dawn’s work here.