A REAL-LIFE BOYHOOD MEETS
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.
I never meant to spend 14 years filming T-Fred.
My family has lived on the same spot of the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana since 1836. We are connected to the land, water and Louisiana’s outdoor lifestyle.
In 2002, I realized that certain aspects of South Louisiana’s culture were disappearing as older generations died and modernization set in. This alarmed me – that a way of life, that culture, could just vanish. I felt like I needed to document what I could before it was too late.
One thing in particular caught my attention – the fact that fewer people were living off the land and more and more people were becoming disconnected from nature and their food source. I bought a camera and set out to capture what I could, as quickly as I could.
T-Fred was 6 when I met him, and his dad the only man catching frogs for a living. I would document what it looked and felt like to be the “last of the Mohicans” – the last water-bound swamp Cajuns.
T-Fred was surrounded by challenge. Fractured family. Financial strains. Alcoholism. Learning issues. But when I was with him, I often found myself thinking about the definition of wealth. T-Fred’s life was richer than most in many ways: his connection with nature, his mealtime bounty, his happiness and sense of self.
By spending time with T-Fred in his natural habitat, I learned of the deep impact nature has on a child. I watched as he received positive feedback and confidence from small accomplishments like catching a frog or climbing a tree. Each of these achievements gave him knowledge, skill and made him feel good, an antidote to the roughness of life.
I started the film before I was married. Before I was the mother of three boys. Before I thought like a parent. I started the film to document a South Louisiana way of life that’s going away but I stayed with it for such a long time for more personal reasons. In hindsight, I see that T-Fred was preparing me for my own boys.
Fourteen years later, I’m trying to keep my sons as wild as I can so that when they are stung by a bee, they’re learning about danger and how to outsmart it; when they dive to the bottom of the ocean, they’re learning not to fear risk but to work with it; when they catch a fish, clean it and cook it for dinner, to feel accomplished and secure knowing they can take care of themselves in this world. As T-Fred knows, these are lessons not learned on an iPhone.
filmed over the course of 14 years
On the edges of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, a Cajun frogger and his family are struggling to hold on to a way of life they have known for generations.
At the heart of the story is T-Fred, who wants nothing more than to follow in the steps of his father, the last commercial frogger in the Basin. A spirited adventure-seeker, T-Fred is most comfortable on the water or barefoot in the woods, and for him, the pursuit of frogs and fish is all that matters. However, an encroaching outside “civilized world” threatens the family’s isolated existence, maintained for as long as they can remember by living off the bounty of the swamp.
T-Fred must balance his natural and imagined worlds with the gritty reality of his family’s future. Filmed over 14 years, the film celebrates the magical and thrilling world of the swamp at night, the impetuous innocence of youth, and man’s innate connection with nature.