In ‘A Place Called Desire,’ Leonard Smith III captures New Orleans history

Award-winning filmmaker, genealogist reveals intimate truth of Upper 9th Ward Desire Community

Genealogist Leonard Smith III has been bridging the gap between  Louisiana’s past and present.

Smith is a prolific film producer from New Orleans who has created an immense body of work reflecting the misrepresented and forgotten history of Black Americans, including the history the Desire Housing Complex and the New Orleans Upper Ninth Ward community where he grew up.


Smith refers to himself as a renaissance man who spends time with the people who live the stories. He said he has a deep and abiding love to educate, entertain, and inspire others to tell their story.

Since 1975, he has been involved in every aspect of historical research from genealogy, photography, technology, storytelling, filmmaking, and music. He has also authored “A Beginner’s Guide to Searching Family History” which is available on Amazon.

“I share with the reader the benefit of the many years I have spent interviewing relatives, digging through courthouse records, traveling to historic sites, searching websites, and rediscovering the stories of those who came before us,” he wrote.

Through his cinematography company, LS3 Studios, he has produced award-winning documentaries of musicians, institutions, and family histories.

His most recently acclaimed project, “A Place Called Desire,” was a finalist for Best Documentary in the San Diego Black Film Festival and a semifinalist in the Rootstech 1st Film Fest. It won a Silver Telly Award and a Gold Digital AVA Award. It was also nominated for the 2020 LEH Humanities Documentary Film of the Year and made an official selection for the New Orleans and the San Francisco Black Film Festival. 

Archive tapes for Leonard Smith III

“A Place Called Desire” tells a powerful story with narration that  incorporates photographs and 8mm home movies of the Desire Community.

More than 60 individuals were interviewed about their lives in “a place that is not the same one that is often portrayed,” Smith said. New Orleans librarian Valencia Hawkins assisted with the research for the documentary and with its production.

“There were struggles, many struggles, but there were also strengths and positives in this tight-knit community of thousands,” said Smith.

“This story of trials and tribulations teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of pushing through when times get tough, learning to fight against all odds. (It tells) how many people in Desire  preserved with grit and courage.”

Smith said he continues to research the Desire Community even though the documentary is complete.

“One thing I’ve always said is ‘Don’t ever give someone else the pen to write your story’,” Smith said during an interview on Nurturing Our Roots with Antoinette Harrell.

Smith’s creative team of producers and writers at LS3 Studios are dedicated to educating, entertaining, and inspiring audiences through innovative storytelling. The projects reveal Smith’s compelling storytelling and intuitive access to archives and information.

LS3 Studio offers a variety of services that include image and audio editing, production of broadcast quality video and multimedia presentations, custom photography, and web development.

The independent studio which is based in Maurice, La. has produced “From Shanghai to Harlem,” winner of the Gold AVA Award and Bronze Telly; “The 100th Anniversary of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church,” winner of two Bronze Telly Awards; and “A Legend in the Classroom-The Life Story of Ms. Yvonne Busch” winner of the AVA Platinum Award, Hermes Gold Award, and Bronz Telly Award.

LS3Studios has produced projects for Xavier University of Louisiana, Black and Indian Mission Office of Washington DC, Treme Charter School Association, Dillard University The Iberia African American Historical Society, The Josephites, Terrebonne Genealogical Society, OW Dillion Preservation Organization, the Louisiana Recovery School District, and many others. 

The studio brings the benefits of the internet and digital video technology to small businesses, individual, schools, and not for profit institutions. 


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