Monday, November 17, 2008

IN THE ELECTRIC MIST

During dinner at a Mexican restaurant last week, I asked my long-time friend, Janet Faulk, when the film “In The Electric Mist With the Confederate Dead,” based on native son James Lee Burke’s novel of that name, will appear. She said she had been anticipating the movie since the Spring of 2007 when she worked as town scout for the film depiction of this novel.

Janet, now President and CEO of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, isn’t a native Cajun but as a former CAO in the previous New Iberia city government, she knew enough about historic landmarks, the culture and landscape of Acadiana to locate sites for the filmmakers. Back in May, 2007, I wrote a feature story for “Acadiana Lifestyle” entitled “Location, Location, Location” that featured Janet’s adventures scouting, including forays into small towns looking for men’s restrooms!

IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH THE CONFEDERATE DEAD is a déjà vu kind of story that centers on a Hollywood crew coming to New Iberia to produce a Civil War film. The movie features Tommy Lee Jones as famed Dave Robicheaux, the fictional New Iberia detective who is the hero in at least 17 Robicheaux books based in New Iberia and environs. In the novel, IN THE ELECTRIC MIST, Dave Robicheaux attempts to link the murder of a New Iberia woman to a New Orleans mobster returning to his home town and the memories that arise within him when the movie crew films this Civil War movie. The story records Robicheaux’s conversations with the ghost of a Civil War soldier and other weird happenings and was adapted by Mary Olson Kromolowski and Jerzy Kromolowski.

The notable Bertrand Tavernier directed the filming of “In the Electric Mist.” He has been quoted as saying that the films he makes are primarily subjects he is passionate about, and he tries not to be too analytical about why he wants to direct a certain movie. I understand, from Janet’s account of her adventures as a scout, that Tavernier became a real fan of crawfish boudin. Janet reported that Tommy Lee Jones was highly focused on his work and precise in his requests. She’s among the few who got close enough to converse with Jones about his role as Detective Dave Robicheaux. The Civic Center here in New Iberia played a large part in the filming because it’s the site of the Mayor’s office, parish library, and Iberia Parish Sheriff’s offices with a brick courtyard and fountain in the center of this complex. Locations involved five Acadiana parishes.

The town was determined to have New Iberia and its environs appear in the movie because a previous film about a James Lee Burke novel was filmed in New Orleans when its setting should have been New Iberia. At the time of filming “In the Electric Mist,” Janet said that the concept to create the film in its indigenous setting had been a commitment by the movie company and had driven the creative processes to keep the integrity of the story intact. Additionally, the company used existing property instead of building sets. This focus made Janet’s scouting job more intense and more far-reaching than it might have been otherwise.

Author James Lee Burke’s novel, IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH THE CONFEDERATE DEAD, claims a place in an alternative English class at ULL entitled “Down the Bayou," a survey of multicultural literature, and he can hold his own alongside Ernie Gaines, author of A GATHERING OF OLD MEN, with whom I briefly studied back in the late 80’s. Burke is one of two authors to win two Edgar Awards, and his novel, THE LAST GET BACK BOOGIE, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Many of us who watched the film crews at work in the Queen City of the Teche are anxious to see this film that showcases the haunting southern mystique of our town. New Iberia traces its history back to 1779 when Francisco Bouligny led flatboats of immigrating Malaguenos up the Bayou Teche from New Orleans into this subtropical area to form a settlement. To learn more about this Spanish settlement, get a copy of my young adult novel FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE from Border Press.
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