Film to focus on old-time south La. boat builder

When Charles Richard set out to make a documentary about the unique designs of south Louisiana’s wooden boats, he had no idea it would lead to new questions about the memory and visualization capabilities of the human brain.

A professor of moving image arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Richard is writer and director of “In the Mind of the Maker.”

He said the film will focus on Edward Couvillier, an 85-year-old boat builder who lives in St. Mary Parish on Bayou Teche, as he builds a classic Creole rowing skiff.

“Mr. Couvillier and all of these old-time boat builders are able to visualize to a degree of complexity that is pretty far beyond what most of us are accustomed to,” Richard said. “He only has an eighth-grade education, but he can do things with his mind that trained maritime engineers have a tough time doing.”

Richard described how Couvillier creates his boats using only the images in his head, manipulating the 3D figure in his mind and planning out every detail.

“They don’t use any blueprints,” he said. “They don’t use any plans or any recorded measurements. The only measurement he wants to know is what’s going to be the distance between the bow and the stern. From that, he’s able to build this boat.”

Richard also noted that there is a degree of culture he wants to convey with this film.

He first noted the unique designs of south Louisiana’s boats, which are made to travel through swamps and bayous riddled with cypress knees and sunken logs.

“South Louisiana is full of water,” said Ray Brassieur, an anthropologist at UL-Lafayette who studies traditional boat building. “We have bayous, big rivers, big lakes and bays that have to be crossed. But cultural heritage has another part of it.”

Brassieur has studied Louisiana boat building traditions for more than 30 years, since observing master craftsmen building them for the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. He said the mix of European, African and Native American boat building traditions played a large role.

“You can’t discount the role of the craftsmen either,” he said. “Individuals of great skill and creativity add to what makes the boat special.”

Richard said he hopes to show a perspective that is often lost on the reality shows that create the world’s vision of south Louisiana and its people.

“When non-natives come in to try to tell our story, they very seldom, if ever, get it right,” he said. “With all of the reality TV shows out there trying to depict south Louisiana, I think that the rest of the country has gotten a pretty distorted vision of who we are in Acadiana. Our hope is with ‘In the Mind of the Maker’ we are able to tell our own story in a way that’s more honest and more accurate for American and world-wide audiences.”

Richard and his crew plan to work with a psychologist and the LITE Center in the University Research Park to explore the brain processes that allow Couvillier to create the mental images used in building his boats.

The LITE Center, among other things, allows researchers and private companies to create complex 3D models to better visualize a project or product.

“When I mentioned Mr. Couvillier to one of my colleagues at the LITE Center, he said, ‘Wait a minute, we built a $28 million visualization facility here at LITE to do what this old man can do between his ears?’” recalled Richard. “And the answer is yes. We moved from telling a small story about a boat-building tradition in the Atchafalaya Basin to telling a big story about the phenomenon of mental imagery, visualization and the science behind creativity.”

Richard said he and his executive producer, John Durel, decided to donate the lead sponsorship of the film to UL-Lafayette.

He said they wished to pay homage to the school because, although it is not actually funding the film, the majority of expertise comes from the university’s scholars and scientists.

Finding funding proved more difficult than they had planned, which forced the filmmakers to delay filming until March 1. They managed to find enough sponsors to get started, but noted there are sponsorship and underwriting opportunities still available for businesses or individuals interested in a “solid promotional value.”

Despite being behind schedule, the film is set to be released in English and French by late 2014 or early 2015. For more information visit their website at mindofthemaker.co or facebook.com/InTheMindOfTheMakerFilm.