Ben Levine’s new documentary looks at Maine’s invisible French culture
By Beth Brogan
After growing up in a Russian-Jewish household outside Boston and fighting for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King Jr., filmmaker Ben Levine moved to Maine more than 20 years ago braced for culture shock. He expected to be surrounded by French Canadians in his new home. After all, Quebec is just a ways up Route 201. But after living in Augusta, Waterville, and Skowhegan, he still wondered, “Where are the French?”
“I always thought it was strange to be living in a New England town full of French people, just down the road from seven million French-speakers, and yet never, ever hear or see anything French,” Levine says. Now, after 22 years exploring the disappearance of the French-Canadian culture, Levine offers an explanation for this invisible culture in a new documentary, Reveil: Waking Up French, to be shown February 14 at the Center for Cultural Exchange.
Exposing what Levine calls “a campaign in the 1920s and [later] in New England to suppress the French language and the culture,” Reveil is the most recent effort by a filmmaker whose previous works have been seen on US and European television and at the Museum of Modern Art.