By CHARLIE BIER
LAFAYETTE, La. – From acting roles and screenwriting to script consultation and internships, University of Louisiana at Lafayette alumni, faculty and students helped make “Lost Bayou” a hit at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The feature film premiered at the independent festival in New York, which ended Sunday. Tribeca is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.
“Lost Bayou” tells the story of a woman struggling with addiction who returns to Louisiana to reconnect with her estranged father, a Cajun faith healer who lives on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin. She discovers he is hiding a disturbing secret.
The film, which was shot last year, resonated with Shayna Weingast, the festival’s associate programmer. She wrote on the Tribeca website: “‘Lost Bayou’ is a hauntingly evocative slice of Louisiana life that traces the fraught journey out of pain and into healing.”
Two screenings of the film were originally planned for the festival, said Hunter Burke, who co-wrote “Lost Bayou” and was a supporting actor. After the initial screenings sold out quickly, Tribeca organizers scheduled another. When that one sold out too, a fourth showing was added.
Burke, who earned a bachelor’s degree in performing arts from the University in 2007, is thankful – but not surprised – by the film’s popularity at Tribeca.
“There’s a certain desire for Southern-based content across the U.S. As for Louisiana, I think there’s a lot of interest in our customs and the way we approach life,” he said.
Burke, who is from Broussard, Louisiana, wasn’t the only University graduate to feature prominently in “Lost Bayou.” Teri Wyble, the film’s lead actress, earned a bachelor’s degree in performing arts in 2008. She is from Arnaudville, Louisiana.
Burke’s and Wyble’s work on “Lost Bayou” isn’t the first time on film for either actor.
Among many roles, Wyble played a resistance soldier in “Terminator: Genisys” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Burke’s growing résumé also includes roles in major Hollywood productions. In “The Big Short,” for example, he played an analyst in a film loaded with A-lister’s, including Christian Bale and Marisa Tomei.
Wyble said she was excited to act in “Lost Bayou” to do her part in accurately portraying the place where she was born and raised.
“Louisiana and our culture isn’t often depicted very well in film. We are often made fun of, or characterized in a way that isn’t authentic. It’s like, ‘We don’t talk like that and that’s not how we do things,'” she explained.
Conni Castille, a senior instructor at UL Lafayette and director of the University’s Moving Image Arts program, was a consultant during shooting of “Lost Bayou.” As a filmmaker, she has written, directed and produced award-winning documentaries on Cajun and Creole culture.
Castille agrees with Wyble.
“It’s frustrating to see films about our way of life made by people who know nothing about it. It’s gratifying to know we can have control over our own narrative,” she explained.
Castille helped three of her students – Levi Porter, BreAnna Smith and Ryan Watts – get a front row seat to the shooting of Lost Bayou.
Porter, from Berwick, Louisiana, and Smith, from Baton Rouge, will earn bachelor’s degrees in moving image arts this semester. Watts, of New Orleans, earned a moving image arts degree in Spring 2018.
Each of the three worked as production assistants several times a week during shooting.
Smith photographed and catalogued “continuity shots.” The sequenced photos are referenced continually during shooting to ensure that actors’ clothing is consistent from scene to scene.
“If costumes look even slightly different, it makes editing footage harder and increases the chances for mistakes to make their way into the finished film,” she said.
Smith wants to be a screenwriter, director or work in art departments during movie productions.
“I hope to go to grad school in Austin and then maybe come back to Lafayette or New Orleans because of all the opportunities in the movie industry here,” she said.
For Watts, duties such as holding a boom pole topped with a microphone gave him an up close look at unfolding scenes. More importantly, his proximity to the inner workings of movie production emboldened him.
Watts is a director of video production at a local marketing agency where he helps create commercials. In his spare time, Watts makes short films. He envisions “doing bigger, more challenging projects in the future like being a director of photography for movies or TV shows.”
“That kind of work, honestly, is intimidating. But after being on a movie set I was like, ‘OK, maybe I can do that.’ It changed my thinking,” he said.
One of Porter’s duties was ensuring quiet on the set during takes. When cameras stopped rolling, he took every chance he could to pick the brain of Natalie Kingston, the cinematographer for “Lost Bayou.”
Kingston earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from the University in 2004. Among other projects, she shot the Grammy-nominated film “Two Trains Runnin'” – a New York Times Critic Pick.
Porter aspires to be a director of photography for feature films, in charge of considerations such as how shots are framed, lighting and camera angles.
He found a perfect mentor in Kingston.
“She was always willing to answer my questions, with everything else that was going on. It was really cool to be able to learn from a professional.”