Footage from The Louisiana Story Survey Film [(c)Flaherty Study Center], with audio from Flaherty Seminar discussions

Director: Robert Flaherty
Cinematographer: Richard Leacock
Audio: Flaherty Seminars of 1958, 1963, and 1968
Assembly: Erik Piil, 2011
1946-1947, 28 min., HD video
Screened at the The 2011 Robert Flaherty Film Seminar: SONIC TRUTH
Programmed by Dan Streible

How -- after surveying, shooting, and watching color film footage of the oil refineries emanating black smoke into the skies over southwestern Louisiana -- could Robert Flaherty make Louisiana Story as a poetic fantasy? and later describe its "inspiration" in this way?

Screening at the seminar for the first time is this silent, color 16mm footage shot by Ricky Leacock. In preproduction, Flaherty studied locations for the sponsored film he was making for Standard Oil of New Jersey. With a $250,000 budget, the director could afford shooting color survey footage. As Leacock noted, "Bob" liked to shoot copious amounts of footage with no intended goal. Here we see monstrous oil refineries, derricks, marshes, bayou flora and fauna, and, occasionally, people.

The Flaherty Study Center, Claremont School of Theology, houses the material. In 1976, the center copyrighted the title The Louisiana Story Survey Film. That work is simply an assemblage of most of the raw footage. All but one roll is Ansco brand stock, whose color has faded considerably. For the 2011 seminar, an admirer of Leacock's work, Russ Suniewick at Colorlab, did pro bono digital color-correction using the camera-original reversal prints. Erik Piil (NYU Bobst Library) assembled the resulting HD files for the seminar presentation, assisted by Walter Forsberg and Rufus de Rahm.

Piil also researched, digitized, and edited the audio from The Flaherty's collection of seminar recordings. The 1958, 1963, and 1968 discussions of Louisiana Story and of Louisiana Story Study [not Survey] Film (George Amberg and Nicholas Cominos, 1962) include the voices of Frances Flaherty, Leacock, Amberg, Standish Lawder, Arnold Eagle (who shot the production stills for Louisiana Story), D. Marie Grieco, and others.


Rare color "survey film" footage (1946-1947) shot by Richard Leacock and Robert Flaherty prior to the production of Louisiana Story (1948). These Kodachrome and Anscochrome camera-originals are from the Robert and Frances Flaherty Study Center, located at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, CA. Colorlab film laboratory performed pro bono color correction and output to high-definition video for the 2011 Flaherty Seminar. Audio recordings of the Robert Flaherty Seminar were found in the archives of International Film Seminars, Inc.; digitization was courtesy of the Barbara Goldsmith Conservation and Preservation Department, New York University Libraries.

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