The Louisiana Film Trail

Lights. Camera. Louisiana.

With her exotic swamps and bayous, imposing plantation locations, and unrivaled cityscapes, Hollywood has been casting Louisiana as a leading lady for over a century. 

Louisiana has long been a frontrunner in the film industry. New Orleans opened the first indoor seated theater in 1896 and when Tarzan of the Apes appeared on film (1918), Morgan City served as the jungle. The movie premiered at the Broadway Theatre in New York and became an instant box office hit. It was one of the first six films to earn over $1,000,000, a significant amount in 1918.

More than 2,500 films have been shot in Louisiana and although you may not be familiar with Creature, Red River Ode, or The Ninth, you’ve probably heard of Beasts of the Southern Wild, 12 Years a Slave, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Pelican Brief, and Monster’s Ball.

Explore some of the most iconic movies in history and imagine Tom Cruise, Elvis Presley, Sean Penn, John Wayne, Dolly Parton, Brad Pitt, Charlton Heston, Jack Nicholson, and Julia Roberts in those same spaces.

Whenever you find yourself in Louisiana, explore these unique sites and dig into all the other adventurous experiences Louisiana has to offer.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Belizaire the Cajun (1986)

Belizaire the Cajun tells the story of a traiteur, or a Cajun healer, who goes on a series of adventures to save his community in Louisiana in 1859. Belizaire the Cajun was filmed by Louisiana native Glen Pitre on location in the heart of Cajun country in 1986.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert liked the approach of the main character, saying he “doesn’t play the Cajun like an action hero. He plays him sort of like a bayou version of Ghandi, restraining his anger, always able to see the comic side of his predicament, trying to talk his people out of a situation they clearly cannot win by force.”  The Acadian House at Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site served as Perry Plantation in the film.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site honors the story of Evangeline and the author (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton, and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche in the town of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole, and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.

Mural depicting arrival of the Cajuns in St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas In Louisiana (2019)

Christmas in Louisiana is a Lifetime Original Movie, filmed in New Iberia. This family Christmas movie stars country singer Jana Kramer; Percy Daggs III, Moira Kelly, Barry Bostwick, and Dee Wallace. Numerous locations in New Iberia star as the backdrop; The Evangeline Theater, Shadows on the Teche, Bayou Teche Museum, and more. 

A drive down Main Street during filming in September 2019 felt like traveling from the Queen City of the Teche to a Christmas village, albeit one with 90-degree weather. Experience your own Christmas in Louisiana by visiting all the locations from the film and while you’re there you can even visit the other filming locations on their complete movie trail. 

Evangeline Oak Park in St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Evangeline (2013)

Although not the original film adaptation of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic about the journey of the Acadians, the film’s most popular screen version was released in 1929 by United Artists. Legendary actress Dolores Del Rio starred as the namesake character Evangeline and Roland Drew as her love Gabriel.

Del Rio was so enamored of the state and its people that she contributed to a fund to restore the supposed burial place of the real Evangeline. A statue of Evangeline—posed for by Ms. Del Rio—was donated to the town of St. Martinville by the film’s cast and crew and is still on display just outside St. Martin de Tours chapel, the Acadians’ Mother Church. Visitors can also complete a walking tour of St. Martin Square or Evangeline Oak Park.

Swamp people © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swamp People (2010–present)

Currently, in its 13th season on the History Channel, Swamp People gets the viewer practically nose-to-snout with the month-long alligator season in Louisiana. Probably the most unique tale of living off the land, Troy Landry and his crews cull alligators for a living while maintaining their proudly Cajun way of life.

Take a swamp tour with the show’s own R.J. Molinere’s Rising Sun Swamp Tours, and get your own personal “behind the scenes tour” of the biggest, swampiest filming location ever!

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Rose (1923)

In 1923, legendary film director D. W. Griffith, known as the father of American cinema, came to south Louisiana to shoot the 1923 film White Rose, based on the story by Irene Sinclair. The film starred Mae Marsh, Carol Dempster, Ivor Novello, Neil Hamilton, Lucilla LaVerne, and Porter Strong.

The controversial plot involves a wealthy young Southern aristocrat who graduates from a seminary and, before he takes charge of his assigned parish, decides to go out and sow his oats. He winds up in New Orleans and finds himself attracted to a poor, unsophisticated orphan girl. One thing leads to another, and before long the girl finds that she is pregnant with his child.

The Bayou Teche area served as a background and the majority of the scenes in White Rose were filmed on location at Shadows-on-the-Teche Plantation in New Iberia, Bayou Teche, Franklin, and St. Martinville. The short parade sequence was filmed during Mardi Gras 1923. Located in New Iberia’s Main Street District, set among towering live oak trees draped with Spanish moss on the banks of Bayou Teche, The Shadows-on-the-Teche was built in 1834 for sugar planter David Weeks.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More stops along the Louisiana Film Trail

Louisiana’s antebellum plantations on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge remain a magnet for blockbuster films. In recent years, 12 Years a Slave was filmed at Felicity Plantation. For the classics enthusiast, the tours at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens explain the mansion’s role in making Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

In Baton Rouge, visit Louisiana’s State Capitol to see where All the King’s Men, a story based on Huey P. Long, was filmed. Just a few blocks away sits the USS KIDD, a WWII-era battleship where Tom Hanks’ Greyhound was filmed.

Get in the Christmas spirit and see the settings of Lifetime movies A Christmas Wish in Ponchatoula and Christmas in Louisiana in New Iberia.

Take a look at other famous movies and TV shows filmed in Louisiana.

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

Cultural Interplay along the Bayou Teche: Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site

Stand at a cultural crossroads in Louisiana’s first state park

It’s not often that a poem can awaken the public to the history of an entire culture but Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie has done just that. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem tells of an Acadian woman named Evangeline who was separated from her beloved Gabriel during the Acadians’ expulsion from Nova Scotia (circa 1755). The poem’s popularity taught Americans about the people known today as Cajuns who moved to Louisiana from eastern Canada over 260 years ago. In Louisiana, the story is also known through the poem’s local counterpart, Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline written by Judge Felix Voorhies in 1907.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the first in the Louisiana State Parks system, honors the story of Evangeline and the author who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton, and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche (pronounced “tesh”) on the northern edge of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole, and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy sweeping views of the Bayou Teche and the surrounding landscape from the long veranda that stretches across the second floor of the big house. The blacksmith shop and visitor center which contains an outstanding museum are nearby and walking down the path towards the bayou you’ll find the Acadian farmstead that includes a kitchen and barn. All are open for group tours that can be arranged at the visitor center.

Related: I’m going to Cajun Country!

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For generations, a blend of history and legend has drawn visitors to this meeting place of incredible natural beauty and unique historical background. In legend—the area was the meeting place of the ill-fated lovers, Evangeline and Gabriel. In history—it was the meeting place of exiled French aristocrats fleeing the French Revolution and of Acadians of Nova Scotia seeking refuge after the British expulsion. In nature—it is the meeting place of the swamp and the prairie.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche. Acadians and Creoles, Indians and Africans, Frenchmen and Spaniards, slaves and free people of color, all contributed to the historical tradition of cultural diversity in the Teche region. French became the predominant language and it remains very strong in the region today.

An Acadian Cabin vividly illustrates how different the lives of the Acadians and Creoles were. Prior to the arrival of the Acadians, or Cajuns, in 1764, the Bayou Teche area had already begun to be settled by the French. Many of these settlers were descendants of the first wave of French settlers in Louisiana. They are sometimes called “Creoles,” meaning native since they were born in colonial Louisiana.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once part of the hunting grounds of the Attakapas Indians, this site became part of a royal French land grant first used as a vacherie or cattle ranch. When the grant was sold and subdivided, this section was developed as an indigo plantation. In the early 1800s, Pierre Olivier Duclozel de Vezin, a wealthy Creole, acquired this property to raise cotton, cattle, and eventually, sugarcane.

He built the Maison Olivier, the circa 1815 plantation house which is the central feature of Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site. His son, Charles DuClozel Olivier, inherited the property and made improvements to the home in the 1840s. Under his management as a sugar planter, the plantation attained its greatest prosperity.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The structure is an excellent example of a Raised Creole Cottage, a simple and distinctive architectural form that shows a mixture of Creole, Caribbean, and French influences. The ground floor walls, 14 inches thick, are made of brick from the clays of the adjacent Bayou Teche. The upper floor walls consist of a mud and moss mixture called “bousillage” which is placed between cypress uprights.

The house is furnished with a variety of pieces dating to the mid-19th century. The landscape surrounding the home includes native and exotic fruit, nut, and shade trees. Near the Maison Olivier is a barn constructed in the 1820s near Grande Cote. The pasture is home for horses typical of a type common in this area in the 19th century.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1934, the property became the first park of the Louisiana State Parks system. In 1974, Maison Olivier was designated a National Historic Landmark.

There are numerous more ways you can get up close to Cajun culture in St. Martinville. The city itself is historical being the third-oldest in Louisiana. Evangeline Oak Park centers on an ancient live oak tree on the Bayou Teche that has been the most visited spot in St. Martinville since the late nineteenth century. The tree is named for the heroine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline. Take a stroll along the Boardwalk where you can observe local flora and fauna including an ancient cypress tree and an occasional alligator.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adjacent to Evangeline Oak Park, the Acadian Memorial and the Cultural Heritage Center houses the African-American Museum and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial. Listen to the story of Evangeline under the Oak, visit St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church, and the Maison Duchamp to learn about St. Martinville’s history and development. The Historic District boasts of 50 historic landmarks/sites and registered historic buildings in downtown St. Martinville. Many of the sites continue to host local businesses such as gift shops and cafes.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related: Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Another town worth visiting is New Iberia, where you’ll see the Bayou Teche meandering through its picturesque downtown and plenty more historical homes. Avery Island, home to the TABASCO hot sauce factory and the nature preserve known as Jungle Gardens are other attractions worth seeing in southern-central Louisiana. And, Lafayette, the capital of the region known as Acadiana whose wide selection of restaurants will guarantee you won’t go home hungry.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Admission/Entrance Fees: $4 per person; free for seniors (62 and older)

Location: Southern Louisiana, 16 miles southeast of Lafayette

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954