Southern Louisiana is overlooked sometimes, a mix of unassuming small-town charm and dusty interstate that make passing on through all too common. Art celebrations like Lafayette’s Cinema on the Bayou film festival are becoming less of a hidden gem and more a household name each and every year they run.
“Louisiana’s Reel Festival,” as the event is affectionately referred to, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year from Jan. 21-25, and festival showrunners couldn’t be more excited.
“We love having our festival in the happiest city in the country,” secretary-treasurer of cinema for the Bayou Film Society and festival director Rebecca Hudsmith said. She was referring to the 2014 study published by NBC News proclaiming that the five happiest cities in America all lay within Louisiana’s borders, the happiest of which was Lafayette.
“Ten years is definitely a big benchmark for us,” Hudsmith said of what has become the second-longest running film festival in Louisiana history. She wouldn’t elaborate on what exactly was in store for the anniversary, but did mention that there may be a few surprises for festivalgoers.
Cinema on the Bayou originally began following Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent cancellation of the New Orleans Film Festival in 2005. Lafayette native and documentarian Pat Mire was approached by the National Film Board of Canada to screen the U.S. premiere of famed Quebecois filmmaker Andre Gladu’s documentary “Maroon.”
Mire, whose award-winning films on Cajun culture include 1997’s “Dirty Rice,” 1998’s “Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana” and 2009’s “Mon Cher Camarade,” organized the Lafayette premiere with Gladu in attendance and several other films from around the state accompanying it.
Since then, the festival has grown from a statewide celebration of film to a nationwide and worldwide gathering of filmmakers and local musicians. Notable screenings include Shreveport native William Joyce’s “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” one year before its nomination and win at the 2011 Academy Awards in the best animated short film category. Several critically acclaimed award-winning documentaries like Harry Shearer’s “The Big Uneasy,” about the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina have been shown as well.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard this year, I think more than ever before, to bring the community an excellent collection of films and to really showcase some up-and-coming filmmakers from around the country,” Hudsmith said.
The upcoming festival will screen more than 100 films of varying genres from around the world.
Opening night will feature the critically acclaimed, winner of the National Short Film Competition “One Armed Man.” The film is based the play by Oscar-winning screeenwriter of “To Kill a Mockingbird” Horton Foote, and tells the story of a wealthy cotton gin executive who is confronted by a former employee demanding the return of the arm he lost in one of the machines.
Also unique to this festival are the screening of French-language films through partnerships with a variety of French cultural organizations, several of which will be making their U.S. and world premieres at this year’s festival.
This year’s festival will split time between various locations in Lafayette and Celebrity Theatres in Broussard, Louisiana with Lafayette’s Acadiana Center for the Arts functioning as a sort of home base and hosting both the opening and closing ceremonies. Day passes, allowing festivalgoers to see all screenings in an individual day, are available starting at $10 and all-inclusive festival passes, which provide the same services for all five days, are available for $40.