WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Lafayette: The Lost Hero” is a one-hour documentary that chronicles the life and legend of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette — an intriguing, neglected, and controversial figure from both the American and French Revolutions who at one time was the most famous man in the world. The film examines why a wealthy young French aristocrat would leave the comforts of the court to help a fledgling nation on another continent fight for independence, the nature of the daring path he then set upon, and how the concept of liberty steered so many choices in his life. “Lafayette: The Lost Hero” will be broadcast on PBS stations nationwide on Monday, September 13 at 10 p.m. ET (check local listings).
Lafayette’s life and quest to bring democracy to America and France is shared, in part, as recorded in the extensive letters and memoirs of Lafayette; his wife, Adrienne de Noailles; and his close friend, George Washington. Lafayette left France at the age of 19 in 1777 and worked courageously for the independence of the United States through both strategic military command and skillful diplomacy. He served in the Continental Army under George Washington, participated in the Battles of Brandywine and Yorktown, where he tactically blocked British troops led by Charles Cornwallis, and convinced the French government to increase their commitment to the American cause. Lafayette became, literally, a household name. After peace was won in America, Lafayette returned to France, risking his life to help start the French Revolution and then struggling in vain to bring democracy to his country by peaceful means. The film explores the ideals of the Enlightenment that Lafayette stood for.
The documentary’s narrative is also driven by a present-day search by Lafayette’s descendant, Sabine Renault-Sabloniere, to find out more about her ancestor. Her research uncovers the largely untold story of Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne, second daughter of the Duke de Noailles, and the arranged marriage that turned into a great romance and a partnership in revolution. The result is a biographical film that is part adventure, part romance, part historical journey, with lush dramatizations, evocative footage and animations that give cultural background and bring the audience closer to a sense of what might really have happened in the past, as well as insights on its meaning to us today.
Interviews with the world’s leading authorities on Lafayette add another perspective, presenting first-hand accounts and other research that enables us to unlock some of the secrets of Lafayette’s life and understand the renown by which he was known in his day. Interviewees include the following individuals:
• James R. Gaines: American journalist and author of For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and Their Revolutions (W. W. Norton, 2007).
• Robert R. Crout: Renowned scholar known for extensive research on the Marquis and co-editor of the Lafayette Papers Project at Cornell University, which published the five volume series Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790 (Cornell University Press, 1981).
• Sabine Renault-Sabloniere: A great great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Lafayette, who is writing a book about Lafayette and his wife and the story of their unlikely partnership in two revolutions.
• Jacque de Trentinian: Executive vice president of the French Branch of the Sons of the American Revolution.
• Patrick Villiers: Professeur des Universités at the University of Littoral-Côte d’Opale (Boulogne Calais Dunkerque).
• Gonzague Saint Bris: Author of Lafayette: Hero of the American Revolution (Pegasus Books, 2010).
• Sarah Vowell: Author, commentator and regular contributor on public radio’s This American Life.
Few lives have matched Lafayette’s. In his later years, after being imprisoned for bringing freedom movements to Europe, Lafayette returned triumphantly in 1824 to the United States for the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution — this country’s first great patriotic celebration. His return was celebrated in monumental fashion in towns throughout the nation. Lafayette became the only foreigner ever to have more than 30 American towns named in his honor, not including the numerous streets, squares and parks also named for him in almost every city in the United States. The documentary recalls, too, the great leaders of the day who mourned upon news of Lafayette’s death in Paris in 1834. And yet his legacy today is so conflicted, due in part to his role in the French Revolution, which contradicted his aristocratic background. This film allows a re-evaluation of Lafayette’s crucial role in the establishment of democracy — both in America and France.
“Lafayette: The Lost Hero” is a production of Storyville Films, The Documentary Group and WETA Washington, D.C. Executive produced by Dalton Delan and David S. Thompson for WETA, Tom Yellin for The Documentary Group and Oren Jacoby for Storyville Films. Produced by Elgin Smith. Directed and written by Oren Jacoby. Narrated by John Cullum. Lafayette’s narration by Patrick Bauchau. Major support for “Lafayette: The Lost Hero” is provided by the New-York Historical Society and Julian and Josie Robertson. Additional support is provided by the Annenberg Foundation.
For more information about “Lafayette: The Lost Hero,” visit www.pbs.org/lafayette. An electronic press kit, including downloadable photos for promotional use, is available at pressroom.pbs.org.
WETA Washington, D.C., is the third-largest producing station for public television. WETA’s other productions and co-productions include “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” the arts series “In Performance at the White House” and “The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize,” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including the upcoming “The Tenth Inning,” a continuation of the beloved “BASEBALL” series. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is the president and CEO of WETA. More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at www.weta.org.
The Documentary Group produces work based on a very simple principle: have faith in the intelligence, taste, curiosity and integrity of the audience. TDG was founded in 2006 by the core members of PJ Productions, following the death of legendary broadcaster Peter Jennings. The producers and directors, who were for many years the team behind Jennings’ documentaries at ABC News, are dedicated to continuing the tradition of smart, important and innovative film-making. Their credits as individual producers and directors include hundreds of hours of network programming, independent feature documentaries, and original educational films, including “To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports” for ABC News and “Operation Homecoming,” part of the “America at a Crossroads” series for PBS. More information is available at www.thedocumentarygroup.com.
Storyville Films is a production company that develops and creates documentaries, dramas, and series driven by strong personal narratives and stories of individual courage. Storyville has produced films for the award-winning series “American Masters,” “Great Performances,” “Stage on Screen”, “The Irish in America,” “The Second Russian Revolution” (BBC & Discovery), “Idols of the Game,” “National Geographic Explorer,” and “ABC Turning Point.” Documentary films and series produced by Storyville have premiered on PBS, BBC, ABC, VH1, Discovery, Turner, ITV (UK), Arté (France & Germany), and NHK (Japan). Their work has been recognized by the Sundance Institute, the American Film Institute, and Britain’s Royal Television Society. Storyville’s recent productions include “The Last Girl on Earth” and “Downtown Stories,” commissioned by the Tribeca Film Festival; feature–length documentary “Constantine’s Sword” and “Sister Rose’s Passion,” winner of the Best Documentary Short Film prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award®. More information is available at www.storyville.org.
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