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Documentary filmmakers’ next project is in Gary

Filmmakers Blandine Huk Frederic Cousseau while staying Miller. | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

Filmmakers Blandine Huk and Frederic Cousseau while staying in Miller. | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 1, 2013 6:11AM



“La critique est aisee, mais l’art est difficle.”

(Criticism is easy, art is difficult.)

— Destouches

I recently met Blandine Huk and Frederic Cousseau after a presentation of the locally produced documentary “Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.” The presentation took place at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts in the Miller neighborhood of Gary.

Huk and Cousseau are documentarians themselves, and were filming in Gary because Gary, Ind. will be the topic of their next project.

Huk, 44, and Cousseau, 54, live in Paris. No, not Paris, Ill. or Paris, Texas. Paris, France. Their accents were heavy, but they speak English a whole lot better than I speak French.

Our interview took place at one of the homes of Corey Hagelberg, which are located in the woods atop a dune overlooking Lake Michigan in Miller. Hagelberg allows filmmakers, artists and poets to stay there gratis.

***

Frederic wears the map of France across his face. With your blonde hair and blue eyes, not so much.

Blandine: “Huk is a Polish name. My grandparents emigrated from Poland to France. My grandfather was a miner. When my grandmother came to France, two of her sisters opted to come to the United States — Boston and Chicago.”

Do you speak Polish?

Blandine: “Yes, I also speak German and a little bit of Russian.”

What about you, Frederic?

Frederic: “I speak French and bad English.”

Did you learn to speak English in “ecole”? Pretty impressive, huh? The crossword puzzles often ask for a five-letter word for “Pierre’s school.”

Frederic: “Yes, I had to choose between English and Spanish. I forgot a lot of my English, but I practice when I’m with English or American friends who live in Paris.”

Blandine: “For us, it is an obligation to learn English. If you want to travel, you need to speak English. What kind of name is Manes?”

Italian.

Blandine: “You look like the actor Robert DeNiro.”

I’ve been told I have a voice like Al Pacino.

Frederic: “Is that a reel-to-reel tape recorder you are using? I did not think they made them like that anymore.”

Listen, Frenchie, this very machine was good enough for my Grandpa Vito, so it’s good enough for me.

Frederic: “We were hoping to meet some American Indians in Gary, but did not.”

Frederic, unfortunately, you’re about 175 years too late. But, believe me, the Potawatomi once lived right where we’re sitting.

Blandine: “We are impressed by the way people living here are so open and friendly when we meet them on the street while shooting film. There is something special about the people in Gary. I don’t know if it is that way throughout the United States. People in France are more standoffish.”

Other differences between the United States and France?

Blandine: “The food.”

Frederic: The food is much better in Paris. With that said, when we went to Chicago the other night and found a very good place to eat and we were very happy.”

Was it a French restaurant?

Frederic: “No, no, no; it was an American restaurant.”

Do you like escargot?

Blandine: “Oui. Frogs, too.”

I’m not real big on snails, but I dig frog legs. I’ll have to take you two frogging with me. You need to experience true swamp culture before you leave for France.

Blandine: “Another difference between our countries is violence. Marseilles has a population which is 10 times larger than Gary. Yet, Marseilles has less than half as many murders.”

Are you married to each other?

Blandine: “No, but we are lovers and have been together for 15 years.”

Frederic: “We also love our independence. That is why we live in separate apartments.”

Of all the cities in this country, why did you choose Gary?

Blandine: “Jeff, do you like Gary?”

Yes, I’ve met a lot of good people in this city.

Frederic: “We did not find Gary, Gary find us.”

Explain, please.

Blandine: “We were looking for a new subject. One day a friend of mine told me about Gary, Indiana. So, we started to make research on the history and we found it very interesting.”

Was this friend American born?

Blandine: “Yes, he teaches history in Paris. He is originally from Boston, but lived near Chicago for many years. His name is Andrew Diamond.”

Just out of curiosity, is Mr. Diamond of color?

Blandine: “He is a white man.”

In your research of Gary’s early days, did you come across anything about a rough-and-tumble, poverty stricken section of the city known as “The Patch.”

Frederic: “Yes, historian Dolly Millender told us all about ‘The Patch.’”

Other people you interviewed?

Blandine: “Richard Hatcher, for one. We spent one hour and 40 minutes with him.”

That should be very interesting.

Blandine: “We also talked with some Polish people from the east side of Gary at St. Hedwig Catholic Church. The priest is from Poland.”

Was that the only church you went to in Gary?

Blandine: “We also went to a Baptist service which was a first for us.”

Frederic: “The priest was a young man who could sing like an angel.”

Fred, that would be pastor, not priest.

Blandine: “It was a small church with only about 20 people. But there was so much warmth and emotion. I was almost crying.”

What else did you find out about Gary?

Blandine: “At one time there were 47 ethnic groups here.”

How long will you be filming in Gary?

Blandine: “Seven weeks.”

Estimated running time of the film?

Frederic: “A minimum of one hour.”

How many films have you two collaborated on?

Frederic: “Seven.”

Will the film be completed within a year?

Frederic: “Yes, we hope there will be screenings in this country.”

Me, too. I’m sure you filmed some of the historic buildings in Gary.

Blandine: “Oh, yes. Why did they close the nice Post-Tribune building in Gary?”

I really can’t answer that. Is your film going to be sweet and upbeat or brutally honest?

Frederic: “We simply want the film to unfold and allow the audience to draw its own conclusion. We want to make people think.”

Is making films how you make your living?

Frederic: “We have other jobs.”

Like Langston Hughes once said: “Money and Art – far apart.”

Blandine: “Maybe when the artists have so much money, they don’t create no more. Maybe comfort is not a good thing for creation.”

Are you socialists?

Blandine: “I’m a socialist which is somewhere in the middle. There are some communists in France. But there is a new fascist party that is coming out. They are extremely conservative. More so than the conservatives before them. These new fascists don’t want any foreign people or immigrants in France. They are against the European Union. They are controlled or backed by the corporations that have money and power.”

Frederic: “The new fascists take advantage of the commoner’s anxieties and fears. They use scare tactics regarding the people’s future and their jobs.”

How do you say tea party in French?

***

Sometimes it takes folks from afar to get a story right. People too close to a situation can be biased. I have a good feeling these talented French artists will return to Paris and nail this one.

And when the film gets screened and is well-received somewhere here in the Midwest, the people of Northwest Indiana, and especially Gary, can say: “Merci, Blandine Huk et Frederic Cousseau.”



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