Monthly Archives: February 2015

My Mary Ann Shadd Emerges – Thu February 26, 2015

Yesterday I received the chalk drawing of Mary Ann Shadd.  It’s kind of remarkable, to see this sort of image for the first time.  This person who I’ve been studying and whose letters I’ve been reading suddenly has a face.  Now – it’s true that it’s an artist’s rendition of the face, but it’s based on an earlier photograph as well as pictures of her father and sister.  So it’s kind of a facial reconstruction.  And it DOES feel like a person emerging out of the haze of history.

But it makes me think about the importance of visual imagery.  On the one hand it provides new information – or a new interpretation.  But at the same time, it closes off an avenue of the imagination.  And it also limits the diversity of options that we, as historians, might consider about a person’s appearance.  It could inadvertently close off lines of enquiry.

In the case of Mary Ann Shadd, I think having the picture has more advantages than disadvantages, since it’s based on existing knowledge of what she looked like.  But in my previous film – about Marie Joseph Angélique – there were no images of her in existence.  All we know is that she was Black, female and around 30 years old in the year of the film.  We don’t even know where she was from, or what her ancestry was.  So by manufacturing an image of her, I automatically slant assumptions about her heritage, by giving her a certain complexion and a certain look.

But filmmaking, unlike book authoring, seems to require that the filmmaker create a visual interpretation.  And this interpretation extends beyond faces to every other aspect of the film.

Anyway…this week I finished the final draft of the Shooting Script for review by Drs. Miller and Walsh.  I also inched forward a little on the voice actors.  I now have all my voice actors identified, and have a date (if not a time) scheduled to meet my narrator to record his part.  I’ve also booked my first day in the editing suite, so will start loading everything up on that day – Monday March 9.

I also did one final research task to confirm the view of at least some of academia about the burial of Black history in Canada.  I got hold of Dr. Afua Cooper’s book The Hanging of Angelique, wherein on page 7, she says “Canadian history, insofar as its Black history is concerned, is a drama punctuated with disappearing acts.  The erasure of Black people and their history in the examples of the Priceville Cemetery and Africville is consistent with the general behaviour of the official chroniclers of the country’s past.  Black history is treated as a marginal subject.  In truth, it has been bulldozed and ploughed over, slavery in particular.”  So with this and my own research, I feel justified in echoing this sentiment in the film, especially the burial of Black history before the 1970s.

This coming week I will be confirming the schedule of voice recordings, and organizing copies of my consent forms for these actors to sign.  I also plan to get started working on my Reflexive Essay.  I don’t know how much progress I’ll make, but just getting it started will help me to start running through it in my mind.


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Bits and Pieces Come Rolling In – Thu February 19, 2015

It has been a kind of gratifying week with a lot of uncertainty being clarified.  As regards the schedule of activity, I have now – as of a few minutes ago – finished collecting all the still images and sound effects for the film.  These are all the archival images and sound clips that will accompany the narrator’s and voice actor’s words and film footage.

The only outstanding still image is one that I only found out about this week.  A professional artist that I am close to, named Teresa Fenton, is going to create a piece of original art for the film.  It will likely be in the form of a chalk drawing, and will be an “older-looking” image of Mary Ann Shadd.  The picture will be based on the one-and-only photograph of Mary Ann Shadd in existence, which was probably taken when Shadd was in her 20s.  And her face will be aged using as an example, the image of Shadd’s father.  Also, there is an image of Shadd’s sister that may help to give a sense of Mary Ann’s appearance.

This week I also obtained six variations on the musical theme, “Steal Away to Jesus,” performed and recorded by Jenna Richards.  They sound beautiful, and include simple, minor key, abstract, and rolling variations on the theme.  They are going to make an excellent backdrop to the narrative.

I also met with Professors Miller and Walsh, and they gave me some very helpful suggestions for the film narrative.  In particular, we had a good discussion about the “intentionality” of the burial of Black history in Canada.  They also had some good suggestions about the wrap-up of the film.

I’ve been spending some time, as well, this week, thinking about the Reflective Essay.  There are a million things I could talk about.  But I have been thinking about some of the work of theorists, like Michel Foucault, regarding “seeing” and “the gaze” since this sort of project forces one to really look hard and to consider what has been seen, in the past, and what I am seeing through my process.  I also want to consider the whole performance side of things, since this film is clearly a performance of history.  Bettina Carbonell’s “The Syntax of Objects and the Representation of History: Speaking of ‘Slavery in New York’” may be useful.  As well, Freddie Rokem’s Performing History.  And of course, Robert Rosenstone’s “History in Images/History in Words: Reflections on the Possibility of Really Putting History onto Film” will have some useful points to consider.

I also want to think about the whole ‘burial’ of Black history, and will likely be able to draw from James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.

This coming week is going to be devoted to writing the Shooting Script.  As I’ve been tinkering with the Treatment, I’ve been adjusting the narrator’s words, so hopefully when I go to write the Script, in its formal format, a lot of what I need will already be in place.  This week I also want to get times (during the second week of March) set up to record the narrator and all the voice actors, and that is already under way.

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Big Week – Big Two Weeks – Thu February 12, 2015

I think I must be succumbing to the stress of this term.  I feel certain that I wrote a blog post last week but it is not anywhere to be found.  So… a lot has happened.  There was a huge flurry of organization from Jan 29 to Feb 5 getting ready for the interviews in Toronto.  Questions sent.  Times confirmed.  Room organized.  Camera equipment confirmed and collected from Media Productions.  Hotel booked.

On Feb 6 at 7am, John and I set off in my little Matrix for Toronto in a blinding snow storm.  After a 5-hour, white-knuckle trip, we arrived at Archives of Ontario.  Everything went as planned.  Everybody showed up.  The equipment all worked.  A couple of surprises happened that may affect whose interviews get included but, overall, a success.

After a nice but short one-night and one-morning in Toronto, we got back in the car and had an only-slightly-less-white-knuckle trip home.  Interviews downloaded off the camera.  And camera equipment returned on Monday.

This week I have begun the process of fitting these recent interviews into the Treatment.  I also included Dr. Miller’s comments into the Treatment and scheduled a meeting with both Dr. Miller and Dr. Walsh for next week.

Finally, today I spent the whole day at an editing workshop offered by Media Productions.  It was a lot of time to commit but I think it will pay off when I come to edit the film.   The editing software, Final Cut Pro, has a million features and this refresher course was really helpful.

So this week I will be pushing ahead getting the rest of the interviews into the Treatment.  I need to confirm if one of the interviews is going to be usable, but I’m going to go ahead and use the other two interviews in the meantime.  I also need to begin working on the Script.  It is causing me no end of stress knowing that it is due on Feb 26 and I haven’t started it yet.  (Esp since I have something else that isn’t started due on Feb 24 and something else that isn’t started due on March 3.)  I can’t really push back the dates either.  I found out today that the editing suites are going to be closed from April 10 onwards, and I’m sharing the six suites with six other groups of students.  And on top of that, Media Productions closes the editing suites at 4pm and on weekends, so the access is pretty limited.  Okay … I have to stop writing now because I’m beginning to hyperventilate!

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