Bayou La Batre has seen its fair share of natural disasters and other tragedies in recent years. And now, this small town’s perseverance has inspired an Emmy-winning documentary.
The film, “In The Path of the Storms,” which tells the story of the small town on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, won an Emmy this summer for Outstanding Achievement for the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Executive producer Mike Letcher said the 2011 film is based off a book with the same title and written by University of South Alabama writer-in-residence, Frye Gaillard. It was produced by the University of Alabama’s Center for Public Television and co-produced by South Mobile County artists Sheila Hagler and Peggy Denniston.
“For nearly 300 years, this has been a place unto itself,” the narrator says in the film’s trailer. “It’s self-contained, self-sufficient. It’s a place where people don’t get rich. They get by.”
Both the book and the documentary feature a diverse cross-section of people who live and work in Bayou La Batre, many whose lives were impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Oil Spill in 2010.
“After reading the book, I saw [the film] more as a history and more of a cultural profile,” Letcher said. “Because there are several themes there, and one of them is that Bayou la Batre has always been an entry point for immigrants to find work.”
Immigrants have played a continued role in Bayou La Batre’s history. Many original transplants came from Canada’s French provinces. Then, in the 1920s and 1930s, Eastern Europeans arrived. In the 1970s, Southeast Asian migrants came.
“It was an entry point for people who work very hard and who don’t have anything but the sweat of their brows to work with,” Letcher said.
One part of the film tells the story of Heang Chhun, who left Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge but whose wife and child were killed during their attempt to leave. In Bayou La Batre, he has made a living for himself and has built a Cambodian community around him.
“I think that people continue to persevere, they love the community, they love the culture and they love the water,” Letcher said. “It’s what they know, it’s what they love, and they just keep on.”
When the film was released, Letcher showed the film at the local high school, one for a school assembly and an evening screening for the rest of the community. He said he hopes the film is something the people in Bayou La Batre take some pride in, and he hopes they understand that, in some small way, the Emmy demonstrates how others outside their community are taking pride in the area’s culture.
“I think it is somewhat threatened,” he said. “I think to recognize the value of it and what might be lost if it goes away is kind of what the film’s about, and I hope it at least encourages a little bit some of the people in the community that someone does see the value of their culture, and hopefully they can hold onto it.”