By Laura McKnight
Staff Writer for the Houmatoday.com
Published: Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 at 2:49 p.m.
MONTEGUT — Ashraf Rijal of New York City gave his first-ever karaoke performance this month, impressing crowds at Flynn Stones bar in Bourg with his rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
Matt Parker, a Nashville, Tenn. native who lives in New York, plans to bow-fish with a Pointe-aux-Chenes man, and Nathan Harrison of Monticello, Fla., is anxious to tour south Terrebonne Parish waters in a kayak or pirogue.
The three newcomers are embracing local life as part of a growing group of artists taking up residence in Terrebonne sent here to work on a movie.
“It’s kind of like a once-in-a-lifetime chance to come live in a magical place for three months,” said Parker, 33, the film’s line producer. “There are so many things here that you can’t find anywhere else.”
The crew members work for film company Court 13, which plans to begin shooting a feature film in lower Terrebonne late next month. The movie, with a working title “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” tells the story of a young girl whose father starts to die as the world begins to end.
Court 13 established headquarters early this year in the former Cajun Country Stop gas station and convenience store in Montegut. The company is also renting a large garage and housing behind the store, as well as the tract of land on which they sit.
The film crew grew from 10 to about 40 workers in early March, and will expand to about 65-strong by the time filming starts April 28, the film’s producers said
The artists, many in their 20s and 30s, are moving here from spots across the country, often exchanging city homes for trailers and houses along the Montegut area’s bayou side, drawn by the chance to create art together in a unique locale.
“This would be an adventure to live and work in a new place, be around a mightily talented group of people,” Rijal said.
Several said this marks their first trip south of New Orleans, or their first time in Louisiana, but the crew has already formed friendships with locals, bonding over shared boats, boiled seafood and bowling.
“The people you meet are just fantastic,” Parker said.
The film crew puts in long hours, but still finds time to explore local culture and nightlife through visits to bayou bars, Asian restaurants, taco eateries and drives throughout Cajun country. The crew has already developed factions around Houma seafood spots, with some loyal to 1921 Seafood and others to Big Al’s. But the local atmosphere draws agreement.
“It’s so beautiful. It’s good to be by the water,” said Elizabeth McClellan, 23, a Los Angeles native who moved here from Austin to work in the art department.
Rijal, 24, art department coordinator, said despite 12- to 14-hour workdays, the quiet, watery surroundings give his time here a vacation feel.
“It’s a different pace from New York,” he said. “It’s nice to be in a place where folks say ‘hi’ even if you don’t know them.”
Aude Cuenod, 22, of France, said the chance to explore a different part of the U.S. and interact with local residents drew her to join the film’s art department.
“I was really excited about the prospect of working with a group of young artists making a movie about a place, in that place, with the community really involved,” Cuenod said.
Interactions with local French-speakers have sparked cultural curiosity in Cuenod, prompting her to research certain expressions used here.
Harrison, 23, who serves as boats and picture vehicles coordinator, also spoke about the warm welcomes he’s experienced while scouting local communities for boats, animals and other items. Locals often invite him in for coffee and talks about their lives on the water, experiences in storms, fishing-industry issues and land-loss fears.
“It’s a very cool job,” Harrison said. “I love being able to talk to people from this area.”
Harrison said he learned about Cajun culture while studying fiddle music in Nova Scotia. His growing fascination with Louisiana coincided with the making of this film, co-written by his sister, Lucy Alibar.
“People here are really famous for their hospitality,” he said. “You really notice that when you’re borrowing their boats.”
McClellan’s work has her getting to know the culture archeology-style, by digging through trash for art materials.
“It’s an intimate way to connect to the people,” she said.
But she has also experienced local hospitality as residents offer supplies and issue tips.
“The best advice I’ve gotten so far is that if I come across a gator, run from that like I’d run from a wiener dog,” McClellan said, in a zigzag.