Experiencing Interruptions?

Beirut on the Bayou

Lebanese author, Raif Shwayri, travels to Louisiana to trace the life of his grandfather who once worked as a peddler serving the Cajuns on Bayou Lafourche. Alfred “Sweet Papa” Nicola spent nearly two decades, in the early 20th century, selling his wares to the French-speaking melting pot that was developing on the edge of civilization. His years of traveling to these isolated villages would eventually, and surprisingly, lead to substantial aid for tens of thousands of disabled and impoverished children in Lebanon. This film celebrates the rarely told story of early Arab-American immigrants and includes never-before-seen 16mm footage of South Louisiana and Beirut from the 1950s, as well as rare photos of early Cajun life. It also features an original Arabic score and a cover of a Cajun classic using Arabic instruments.

  • Brent Joseph
    A Loud Color, Holdout, Shell Shocked
  • Brent Joseph
  • Jake Springfield
    Plaquemines, Big Freedia: Y'all Get Back Now, All Over But to Cry
  • Raif Shwayri
    Key Cast
  • Glen Pitre
    Key Cast
    Belizaire the Cajun
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Diaspora, Immigration, Historical, Arab, Cajun, Louisiana, New Orleans, Ancestry, Genealogy, Entreprenueurs
  • Runtime:
    28 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    July 31, 2022
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Lebanon, United States
  • Language:
    Arabic, English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital 4K
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Brent Joseph

Brent Joseph is an award-winning writer, director & editor whose work runs the gamut from highly-stylized imaginary worlds to social issue documentaries. His most recent film, BEIRUT ON THE BAYOU tells the story of Brent’s Lebanese family who worked as peddlers in South Louisiana’s Cajun communities during the early 20th century. It reveals a little-known chapter of early Arab-American immigration to the U.S. In HOLDOUT and A LOUD COLOR, Brent created two unique portraits of his hometown of New Orleans, as residents grappled with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The films played at over twenty festivals, museums and universities from Los Angeles to Paris (AFI, Full Frame, Rooftop Films, Slamdance and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University).

Brent’s fiction work includes, BULLFROGS, a black & white 16mm film, shot deep in the Louisiana swamp, that grapples with the power of sacred spaces and MIRZA THE MIRACULOUS, a story about phony prophets told with kaleidoscopic lo-fi-visuals. The film includes a cosmos constructed out of abstract paintings by artist Iva Gueorguieva as well as an analog electronic score by organist and inventor, Quintron. Both films premiered at the New Orleans Film Fest. BULLFROGS also screened at NewFest, NYC’s oldest and largest LGBTQ film festival.

As an editor, Brent learned his craft in the cutting rooms of David Fincher, Larry Clark, Seth Rogen and many independent filmmakers before collaborating on several movies: QUEEN OF PARADIS (Jury award for Excellence in Documentary Feature Editing, Ashland Film Festival), MTV's TRUE LIFE: I’M LIVING IN IRAQ (Edward R. Murrow award for Best TV Network News Documentary), FIVE TIME CHAMPION (SXSW) and SHELL SHOCKED (PBS World, co-writer).

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

NOTE: An earlier version of the film premiered at the New Orleans Film Festival at the end of 2019, but I removed it from the festival circuit when COVID-19 put public screenings on hold. The interruption to life during the pandemic allowed me time expand the film and deepen my archival research. The earlier version of the film was screened at two other festivals that requested it, but I consider that earlier version of the film to be a rough cut and this new one to be significantly different.