On August 12th, 2021, FOLCS proudly presented A Crime on the Bayou, the latest installment Nancy Buirski’s documentary trilogy with earlier works The Rape of Recy Taylor and The Loving Story. We were then joined by director Nancy Buirski, civil rights legend and documentary subject Gary Duncan, civil rights lawyer Armand Derfner, and esteemed author and intellectual Lolis Eric Elie for a post-screening conversation.
It’s 1966 in Plaquemines Parish, a swampy strip of land south of New Orleans. A young Black fisherman, Gary Duncan, tries to break up a fight between white and Black teenagers outside a newly integrated school. He gently lays his hand on a white boy’s arm and the boy recoils like a snake. That night, police arrest 19-year-old Gary Duncan for assault on a minor.
After months of clashes, the public schools have been integrated by court order. But we are in the land of the white separatist despot, Leander Perez, who rules Plaquemines like his fiefdom, making sure that segregation sticks regardless of federal laws desegregating schools and mandating voting rights. Arresting men like Duncan keeps Black people in their place.
With the help of a young Jewish attorney Richard Sobol, Duncan bravely stands up to Perez. Systemic racism and pervasive anti-Semitism meet their match in decisive courtroom battles, including the U.S. Supreme Court; hate is vanquished by a powerful friendship that will last a lifetime. With the rise of white nationalism in the U.S. and abroad, there is no more important story to tell today. The roots and the mechanics of hate groups are in full display in this dramatic profile of A Crime on the Bayou.
Director, Writer, Producer
A Crime on the Bayou is the latest documentary produced, written, and directed by Nancy Buirski, with its World Premiere at DocNYC and recent release by Shout! Studios. The film was executive produced by John Legend of Get Lifted Film Co., and features an original song by Raphael Saadiq.
Other recent documentary works include The Rape of Recy Taylor (2017), which premiered worldwide at the Venice Film Festival, and in North America at the New York Film Festival. It was awarded the prestigious Human Rights Nights Special Prize for Human Rights at the 74° Venice Biennale, and was nominated for both a Peabody Award and the NAACP Image Award for Best Documentary Film. It has been featured at numerous festivals in the U.S and abroad, is represented by The Orchard, and broadcast on STARZ/HULU.
Buirski also produced, wrote, and directed By Sidney Lumet (2015, American Masters), which had its World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and Afternoon of A Faun (2013; American Masters), which had its World Premiere at the 51st New York Film Festival, International Premiere at the 64th Berlinale, and record-breaking U.S theatrical release with Kino Lorber. She was also Oscar short-listed for the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning The Loving Story (2011; HBO) and produced Loving by Jeff Nichols.
A Crime on the Bayou, The Loving Story, and The Rape of Recy Taylor are in development with HBO as a documentary trilogy addressing historic roots of racism and the brave voices who fought against it. Upcoming, Nancy is set to write and direct Tanny, a narrative version of Afternoon of a Faun, and Endangered, an animated feature based on the award-winning novel by Eliot Schrefer.
Buirski founded and ran the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival from 1997 to 2008. She is a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She is the author and photographer of Earth Angels: Migrant Children in America. Prior to her work in film she was the Foreign Picture Editor at The New York Times and an editor at Magnum Photos. She is represented by ICM.
Gary Duncan, the protagonist of A Crime on the Bayou is a fisherman living and working in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. He and his seven brothers and sisters make a living on the Mississippi River, trawling for shrimps. Before that, enslaved ancestors worked the cane fields of French, Spanish, and English plantations.
Duncan is one of many unsung heroes that stood up for what was right during the Civil Rights Movement. At 19 years old, he tried to break up a fight as he witnessed two Black boys being bullied by white boys outside a newly integrated school. He diffused the fight – not unlike Jacob Blake – but was arrested that night and re-arrested numerous times before his case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. He did not set out to change history, but his actions remind us that anyone can.
The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said we need to know the real people behind their groundbreaking cases. Gary Duncan is one of them.
Civil Rights Lawyer, Film Subject
Armand Derfner has been and still is a civil rights lawyer for more than 55 years, specializing in protecting the right to vote in the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts, as well as helping craft Congress’s voting rights laws. He started out in Mississippi in the 1960s, working for the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee (LCDC), the same organization involved in the documentary film A Crime on the Bayou.
Armand is co-author of a new book, Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court, with historian Orville Vernon Burton, published in 2021.
Lolis Eric Elie
Author, Filmmaker, Film Subject
Lolis Eric Elie is a New Orleans born, Los Angeles based writer and filmmaker. His television credits include work on Bosch, The Chi, The Man in the High Castle, Greenleaf and the HBO series Treme.
Working with the award-winning director Dawn Logsdon, he co- produced and wrote the PBS documentary, Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. He is the co-author of Rodney Scott’s World of Barbecue: Every Day’s a Good Day, from Clarkson-Potter. His essay, “America’s Greatest Hits,” is included in Best African American Essays: 2009.
A former columnist for The Times-Picayune, he is the author of Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country and co-producer and writer of Smokestack Lightning: A Day in the Life of Barbecue, the documentary based on that book. He is editor of Cornbread Nation 2: The Best of Southern Food Writing.
A contributing writer to The Oxford American, his work has appeared in Gourmet, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Downbeat and The San Francisco Chronicle.