Lafayette-born filmmaker Logan LeBlanc gives us a lot to think about on the prospects of immigration and French language culture in his short film, “17 Year Locust.” The 22-minute short won the $25,000 #CreateLouisiana French Culture Film Grant and premiered at the Broadside theater on March 27 for the New Orleans French Film Festival.
“17 Year Locust” follows the story of Haitian immigrant Rene (Stevenson Jean), who moves to Louisiana with his wife in hopes of raising a child and starting a new life there. The exposition kicks off when Odile (Becca Begnaud), an elderly Cajun woman, demands a French-speaking caregiver.
This is where Rene steps in as the only available French-speaking caregiver to accompany her at the hospice. When the two encounter each other for the first time, they instantly form a bond. Odile strikes up a conversation with Rene, giving him a small snippet of her experiences before asking him questions about his own life.
She learns that Rene doesn’t intend to keep his own Haitian roots alive in the U.S, nor does he plan to to teach his own child French. His goal is to assimilate to his new, American lifestyle. The opening scene shows Rene learning common English words and phrases through his earbuds. He listens to the phrases one after the other, repeating what he hears out loud as he makes his way through the park.
After being asked to leave the park by a cop for not being the resident of a business (according to the cop), Rene makes his way home, guitar in hand. While he’s setting up his new room, you can see him replacing his home country’s flag with the American flag on the wall.
While this particular metaphor isn’t very tricky to navigate, LeBlanc’s film is riddled with subtle symbolism. When Rene and Odile near the end of their heartfelt conversation, Odile requests that Rene retrieve a special box for her. The box is concealed in a dark space within one of the room’s walls. Like a locust that spends most of its time underground and buried in the dark, a piece of Odile’s life and legacy was too. Through this box, Odile reveals that she too had difficulty assimilating to English-speaking culture in America.
The film really excels in its stunning cinematography, capturing both the natural beauty of Louisiana’s flora and human interaction. It simultaneously demonstrates Louisiana historical awareness and an understanding of the diversity within French-speaking cultures.
“Everyone’s coming from wherever with a different experience—with a different lens that they’re seeing everything through,” LeBlanc says. “There’s no textbook example. They view it as something that’s more of a melting pot.”
“There’s definitely this kinda ‘check your culture at the door’ thing,” LeBlanc says about America. “That’s not safe, right? Be who you are, bring your legacy in here, and let’s celebrate it instead of just trying to shift it into some space that it shouldn’t be in.”
Rene is not the same man he was before he met Odile. After Odile shares a meaningful conversation about her assimilation, her young pregnancy, and the importance of French language culture, he comes to realize there are things not worth taking for granted. This is wonderfully and poetically communicated with the last scene. Rene is in his room; he has put his native country’s flag back on the wall, and he’s strumming his guitar, singing a song about remembrance. Then, like an emergent locust, he finally sees the light—flooding his room.
“17 Year Locust” is a refreshing and meaningful story, relevant to the many facets of French-Louisianian culture. LeBlanc masterfully fits this into a perfectly paced 20 minute narrative. Becca Begnaud (actress who plays Odile) says she was elated to be a part of such a meaningful, creative project.
“This film is powerful because it makes you feel, makes you see people as people,” she says. “It’s about showing people that they can care, even though they’re different. You know you’re leading with your heart and not your issues.”
LeBlanc brought this idea to life all amidst the pandemic, obeying strict protocol to keep the crew’s workplace safe. Aside from Begnaud and Jean, LeBlanc collaborated with co-writer Trevor Navarre and producer Allison Bohl DeHart. Navarre is even featured playing the guitar to create the magical scene where Rene sings his song of remembrance at the end of the film.
That dulcet tune leaves you on a thematic note that’s equally sweet.
“French is a spirit, it’s more than a language,” Begnaud says. “It’s how you live, how you cook, and how you care. It’s more than grammar or language.”