Monique Verdin describes her film, “My Louisiana Love,” as a sad story.
“It’s almost worse than an old country tune,” she said. “’My home flooded, my daddy died, my boyfriend died, South Louisiana is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, an oil rig explodes offshore and bleeds oil for three months…’”
Verdin and her best friend Sharon Linezo Hong co-produced, and co-wrote “My Louisiana Love,” which follows Verdin, a Native American woman, as she traces her Houma Indian family and finds that their way of life is threatened by recurring environmental disasters.
Both Verdin and Hong grew up in Pensacola and moved away as young adults to New Orleans and San Francisco, respectively. After Verdin graduated from Pensacola High School in 1998, she began to research her family history and moved in with her grandmother, who she calls “Mawmaw.”
“I always knew I came from Native American people,” she said. “But it wasn’t until I returned home to South Louisiana that I started to really research and question my Native American history.”
Verdin said she was trying to make sense of her heritage. She recalls hearing stories around her grandmother’s kitchen table about her people being cheated out of their bayou lands south of Houma, La. referred to as “La Pointe” or “the Point.”
“The irony about ‘La Pointe’ is that in my grandmother’s lifetime—she just turned 97 on Easter Sunday—the land has rapidly disappeared,” Verdin said. “The statistic is approximately an acre of land is lost from Louisiana’s coast an hour. The “Point of Oaks” where my grandparents came from is now a disintegrating wetland.”
She describes the barren scene.
“Oak skeletons mark the horizon as a reminder of what once was while warning the rising tides and sinking lands, left outside of levee protection at the base of the world’s seventh largest delta,” she said.
Verdin researched the Houma migrations from colonialism to present day. She read Jesuit Journals and historical documents, but she credits her family for much of her knowledge.
“It has been my family that has really been my gateways and guides into understanding not only culturally who we are, but they have also been my educators in regards to my understanding the fragile delta environment we call home.”
When she moved in with her Mawmaw, Verdin started putting her 35mm camera to good use and documented the world around her—from her Mawmaw’s house to long walks in the bottomland hardwood forest with her little cousins. She talked to the elders in the communities and drove with her father to the fishing villages. After she watched a news special on “60 Minutes” titled “Town Under Siege” she became more aware of how she could make a difference.
“I thought maybe somehow, someway, my photography might help their fight, but what I realized in doing the work was that there was a much bigger environmental crisis staring us in the face.”
Verdin wasn’t sure how she would share her work, but said there were moments she wanted to capture so she wouldn’t forget. It wasn’t until 2005 that she was put in front of the cameras, instead of behind, thanks to her then boyfriend, Mark Krasnoff.
“He really instigated the ‘putting’ of me in the documentary,” she said. “I prefer the role of the documenter not documented and I think, at the time, I didn’t realize that one day that footage of me would be used to craft a program for public television…in hindsight I would have chosen better outfits.”
Verdin enlisted the help of her close friend, Hong to direct the film, a task Hong did not take lightly.
“I was very supportive of Monique when she first began documenting her family,” Hong said. “Throughout the years, I became closer to her family, especially her grandma, Matine. She became a grandmother to me.”
When Verdin’s documentary partner and boyfriend Krasnoff passed away in 2006, Hong was entrusted with 60 hours of Verdin’s personal video diary.
“Monique is a very private person and would never just hand off her project,” Hong said. “If I hadn’t been there, those tapes would probably still be under her bed. But I was there as her best friend and was with her through the difficult times that were captured on those tapes. It was very natural for me to become the director of the film.”
Verdin and Hong must have worked in perfect harmony, because even in a separate interview Verdin said the exact same thing.
“Had it not been for my dear friend, I would not have had the courage to continue this journey and the tapes might still be in a box buried under my bed,” she said.
Verdin was initially reluctant to have the story be centralized around her, but she says she recognizes the power of a personal narrative now.
“Sharing the film with an audience is kind of like standing naked in front of people—exposing these most intimate details in my life,” she said. “But my hope is that ‘My Louisiana Love’ raises awareness to the conditions plaguing South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.”
“My Louisiana Love” has already made stops in New Orleans, Washington D.C. and Sante Fe, N.M., and will be at Pensacola Museum of Art next week.
“We are very happy to be sharing the documentary with our hometown,” Hong said. “We hope the audience will be inspired to become more aware of what is going on in their own community and to see we are all making choices that impact our environment for better or worse.”
Verdin continued to work because she wanted to shed light on environmental issues and look for solutions.
“I felt there were unfulfilled intentions and information that were globally relevant, including global climate change, oil and gas fossil fuels extraction and consumption, sustainable lifeways and the protection of natural wetlands, waterways and ocean basins,” she said.
She also used the filming process as a coping mechanism.
“Life goes on and as my grandmother would say, ‘You can’t stop dancing in the middle of the dance,’” Verdin said. “I believe my father and Mark would be so proud of this work.”
“We had a session with an amazing story consultant, Fernanda Rossi and she asked us to summarize the film using one sentence,” Verdin said. “Mine was, ‘If you lose your sense of place, your family is home.’ I believe that.”
‘MY LOUISIANA LOVE’
WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, August 9
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $5 for adults $2 for students and active military and free for museum members
DETAILS: 432-6247 pensacolamuseumofart.org or mylouisianalove.com