Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Destruction of a narrative, and its Reconstruction – Thu November 27, 2014

This past week I had a good meeting with my research supervisors, Dr. John Walsh and Dr. James Miller.  I got some good feedback from them on my Concept Proposal and we agreed on a completion date of April 23 for both the film and the reflexive essay.  They suggested some important historical and theoretical things, such as the need to consider the Canadian Black Civil Rights Movement in the 1970s, compared to the American Civil Rights Movement, which began earlier.  We also talked about the difference between archival material that is intentionally “lost” vs. that which is accidentally lost.

They also made some practical suggestions, such as the need for a map to help situate the story for the audience.

I also really liked their idea of considering the destruction of the historical narrative, along with the house, but the reconstruction of the narrative, when the letters were found and conserved.

With that feedback in hand, I’ve gotten into my film’s Treatment now.  I worked on the beginning of that yesterday, including the introduction of Mary Ann Shadd and her letters, up to the point where I can introduce my first interview with Maxine and Ed Robbins who talk about the demolition of the house.

With that start on the Treatment, I have also been able to start collecting and consolidating images and sound effects.  I have images of Henry Bibb, Mary Ann Shadd, and an original front cover of her book, “A Plea for Emigration”, as well as a collection of suitable images for the house that was demolished.

I made less progress on sound effects, but concluded that my sound effect for “publishing” should NOT include a typewriter, since the typewriter wasn’t yet commercially available in the early 1860s.  But now I have to think of a publishing sound that isn’t a typewriter…hmmm.  Scratching pen?

I also talked to Jenna, my pianist friend, about the music and she is going to have a look at the information I sent her last week.  Based on the voting so far, I think the majority are leaning towards “Steal Away (to Jesus).”

Finally, I followed up with Archives Ontario about an archivist who will be able to do an on-camera interview with me, and they are still tracking to find one for me.

So this coming week I will continue to work on the Treatment, and to look for sound effects and more archival images. (Part of the reason the search for images is slow is that I have to find the original source of the image, check its copyright, and add the institution or person to my list of film credits.)  If I have time, I may also see if I can find a map of the northeast U.S. and central Canada.


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Considering the Treatment: Sound and Vision – Thu November 20, 2014

This week I managed to stick to my film-making plan a little better than some other weeks.  I began by starting to look for appropriate hymns that could work as my foundation music for the film.  I proposed three pieces to my pianist friend.  The first is Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour, written in 1868/1870 (lyrics/music) and it stems from the Methodist hymn tradition, of which Mary Ann Shadd was an adherent.  It was written by white people, so I kept looking for something by a Black composer. Also, Shadd actually left Canada around 1863 so this music was not even in existence when my film story ends.  Nevertheless, I included the song for my friend to consider. (Note: I’m only planning to include the piano part, so…)  Here’s the link to a plain version of it, but if you google it, you’ll find that it has many versions, some of which are quite spiced up.

Another one is called Steal Away (To Jesus). It was written before 1862 so is the right period, and it is thought to have been composed by enslaved people.  Here’s a link but there is an ad that you have to skip past:

Another one that I like is called There is a Balm in Gilead.  The link below shows how one pianist did a lot of different variations on a theme, although they are a bit too schmaltzy.  I am asking the pianist for a straight version with a more powerful verse and maybe a really quiet verse. (This idea of three versions – straight, powerful, quiet – would apply to whichever song I choose.)  This hymn makes an interesting reference relating to slavery in the Old Testament which I could also put in the film.  Jeremiah 22:6 and 13 “The Lord says… Though you are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon, I will surely make you like a desert, like towns uninhabited… Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labour”. All that said, I think I’m leaning toward the second song: Steal Away.

I also spent some time this week looking for sound effects and downloaded some of bulldozers, buildings collapsing, and wind in a corn field.  As well, I found a good archival image of African American abolitionist, William Still, with whom Shadd corresponded.  I have requested permission for its use in my film from the Temple University Library in Philadelphia.

Finally, I began work on the Treatment document.  It’s not due until January 22 (2015) but by putting my mind to it, I can start to think more precisely about the images and sounds I need, and to clarify questions remaining in my research.

This coming week I am meeting with my research supervisors, Dr. James Miller and Dr. John Walsh, to discuss the Concept Proposal and to confirm timing.  I will also continue to work on the Treatment, and to look for additional sound effects and more archival images.  As well, I haven’t heard back from the Ontario Archives about an archivist for me to interview.  I may check in with them in a few days if I haven’t heard back from them by then.

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Ontario Archives: New Visuals and New Contacts – Thu November 13, 2014

This was a really busy and productive week for my film project, but not in all the ways that I had planned.  I never got to start working on the Treatment nor any original art or permissions.  However, I did get more outdoor footage and also made some progress on music.

I decided to take advantage of the – sort-of – long Remembrance Day weekend and booked the video camera again from Friday to Tuesday.  Then on the spur of the moment, my husband, John, and I decided to go to Toronto and to stay over until Monday.  Ontario Archives in Toronto is not open on Sundays, so with the Toronto plan in mind, I rushed and got registered at the archives, and got a bunch of archival photographs from the Alvin McCurdy fonds pulled.

So over the weekend I got film footage of fields, trees, water, and some Canada Geese using whatever brief periods of sun that presented themselves.  On Sunday morning I got up just after dawn and got some good footage and as well, I got some decent sunset footage on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday morning at the Archives in Toronto I was able to spend some time looking at the microfilmed letters from the Mary Ann Shadd Cary collection (which are the same as the letters in Chatham).  I also was able to go through several boxes of old photographs from the Alvin McCurdy fonds and get digital images of them.

I also took the opportunity to talk to one of the archivists at the Ontario Archives.  I offered her the finding aid that I had created for the Shadd letters and she was very excited about that.  I also told her about my film project and asked about finding an archivist who is knowledgeable about my topic to do an on-camera interview.  She was very keen about that, and I have subsequently sent an email to her to get the process under way to identify the right person to do that interview.  The archivist I spoke to seemed to think that this would be a good opportunity for the Archive from a publicity standpoint.  She also pointed me to a professor of film studies at York University named Roger McTair who for many years, up until 2007, was a partner in a film company that did several documentary films about Black history in Canada.

Finally, I spoke to a professional pianist that I know a little about the possibility of helping me with some music for the film.  She would not be able to compose original music, however, I have been considering using some 19th century hymns from the Baptist or Methodist church, and she would certainly be able to play them, including creating some variations on musical themes, and recording them for my film.

So all up, it was a very productive week.  Next week I want to start to think about the Treatment, and to look for sound effects and more archival images.  I also want to hunt around for some appropriate hymns that my pianist friend could play.

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From Concept Onwards – Thu November 6, 2014

As planned, I finished my Concept Proposal this week and submitted it today to Drs. Walsh and Miller.  It seems like a document with so few words, and yet it consolidates much of what I have been thinking of and researching over the past weeks.

Over the past week I’ve been thinking about subaltern histories, histories of everyday life, oral histories and what John Brewer calls “Microhistories” and the silences in these histories.  According to Brewer, in his “Microhistory and the Histories of Everyday Life”, academic writing about “everyday life” stems from 17th century antiquarian writing, and was followed in the early 20th century by Marxist writing.  But according to Brewer both were founded in nostalgia and romanticism.  As well, these histories may have been about everyday life, but were not necessarily first-hand accounts.  According to David Kyvig in his book Nearby Histories: Exploring the Past Around You, the writing of oral histories and first-hand accounts has also been around for hundreds of years, but it was not until the 1940s that Allan Nevins formulated the recognized oral history method, in his Columbia Oral History Project.

It is not entirely surprising, therefore, that Benjamin Drew would collect and publish “slave narratives” in 1856, nor that the Federal Writers Project (FWP) would do the same in the 1930s.  These were not written for nostalgic purposes, but rather were likely politically motivated in Drew’s case, and possibly in the FWP case as well.  Whatever the motivation behind their collection, the narratives and the photographs that sometimes accompanied them, represent a valuable archive of primary source information about a group of people that might never otherwise have recorded their own histories.  And even had they recorded their histories, they would have needed to preserve them until the 1960s or 1970s when these sorts of narratives began to be of interest to professional historians and archivists.

So with my Concept Proposal in place, I need to start thinking about the next tasks and the next main building block for the film – The Treatment.  Assuming that the Concept is acceptable to Drs. Walsh and Miller, I need to begin compiling more archival images and accompanying sound effects.  I need to get outside with the video camera again to get any remaining outdoor footage before winter sets in.  I also need to start to consider sources of music and make sure that I have permissions for all my images.  As well, if I am going to need any original art, I need to think about how to make that happen.  So this coming week will be devoted to at least starting some of these tasks.

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