Monday, November 18, 2002
By AMY CALDER, Waterville Morning Sentinel, Staff Writer
Copyright © 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc

WATERVILLE — Documentary filmmaker Ben Levine has spent the last four years studying language loss and the re-emergence of French-Canadian language and heritage in New England.

Guided by recent research that suggests a heritage language can never be totally lost because it is "hard wired" in the brain from infancy, Levine has created a film that weaves together a series of stories about language reacquisition from people
throughout Maine and New England.

"Waking Up French — Reveil" will premiere at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Railroad Square Cinema. The cost is $5 for adults; $3 for students and children.

The film, supported by the Maine Community Foundation, Maine Humanities Council and the city of Waterville, is the first to be shown this year as part of the Franco-American Film Festival. The Yankee Soul Revue will perform live French fiddle tunes
in the theater's lobby prior to the show.

"The film is really about the re-emergence of the French culture in New England and the reconnection with Quebec and New Brunswick," Levine said.

It is the first film to look at the whole history of the French in New England, according to Levine. It covers the experience of the early French in Acadia and Quebec, the unique evolution of the French Catholic Church in Quebec and the effects of emigration to New England.

The 105-minute film also studies efforts to suppress the French language and prejudice against the French.

"A central theme is that the French in New England and Quebec are like a large family that was divided by historical circumstance beyond their control," Levine said. "But at the same time, there has always been a tendency to regroup, opening new
possibilities for reunion, not only with Quebec, but within the New England French family as well."

This is Levine's second film about French heritage and language. His first, "Si Je Comprends Bien (If I Really Understand)," was shown at the first Franco-American Film Festival in 1998.

"Waking Up French — Reveil," was filmed in homes, on the street, in movie theaters, restaurants, churches and museums in central Maine, and all over New England, Quebec and New Brunswick, according to Levine.

Four years ago, Levine and Franco-American Film Festival co-director Julia Schulz found that the festival offered a venue in which people felt "safe" speaking French in public. Seeing films from Quebec and hearing French triggered spontaneous discussions in French from people who claimed they no longer could speak the language, Levine said.

Because the festival prompted a general yearning among participants to "be French again," Schulz formed a group to explore language reacquisition, which prompted Waterville-area residents to speak French and create new opportunities for French use, according to Levine.

Then Schulz, founder of the Penobscot School of language in Rockland, created the new Center for Heritage Language Reacquisition as a division of the school. She currently is working on a French language reacquisition program in Waterville.

According to Levine, about 2 million people of French descent live in New England. A half-million of those people are still active French speakers in the home, and another half-million spoke the language as youths, he said.

"In Maine, that would translate into something like 125,000 active speakers and an equal number of previously active speakers," he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

Ben Levine Website