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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The Archival Gap: Missing Black Histories – Thu January 29, 2015

There seem to be a range of perceptions about why Black history is underrepresented in the archives.  Some researchers hold that the archives are at the mercy of the populations they represent and that gaps in the archive happened in the past because those populations didn’t always provide their papers for collection and preservation.  These researchers hold that some groups in the past didn’t save their papers, others didn’t record their histories, and still others just didn’t offer them to the archives.  So gaps occurred.

Other researchers hold that there are gaps in the archive because some populations were not deemed to be of interest to society, and so were overlooked.

This week I have been getting into this question of “the gap” a bit more.  I’ve been looking in particular at W. Fitzhugh Brundage’s book The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (2005).  I’ve also been looking at James C. Scott’s book Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. (Thank you, Dr. Walsh for the loan of those.)

I’ve also been firming up plans for the interview trip to Toronto a week from tomorrow.  I’ve been adjusting my interview questions for Adrienne Shadd and Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost in an effort to capture some of these ideas about archival gaps.

I’ve also spent time this past week finding images for the film. I have a lot, but still need a few more.  So this coming week I am going to try to find the rest of the images for the film.  I will also work on finding the remaining sound effects that I still need.  And, most urgently, I will be getting the final arrangements in place for the trip to Toronto next week.

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Film Treatment Done – Thu January 22, 2015

The big accomplishment for this week was getting the Film Treatment completed and submitted for review.  It’s an important step, since it is the guide that will drive the whole editing process.

I still need to complete three interviews, and portions of the transcripts from those will need to be inserted into the Treatment, but they will not materially alter the flow of the film.  And each of the three interviewees remaining has seen the Concept Proposal, so they know the general arguments for the film.  I had some feedback from Adrienne Shadd to that end, and have included her input in the Treatment.

I have also done a bit of reading this past week that seems relevant to my project, concerning the Cultural Turn.  While already I’ve mentioned the emergence of Social History in the 1970s, the Cultural Turn also emerged at that time, examining the individual over the collective, and ideas of self-understanding.  This idea seems to complement some of the things that Judith Butler wrote about gender as a construct, and my expansion of that notion to include race as a construct.  Clifford Geertz’s writing on the subject of “culture as text” is instructive, regarding the problematization of culture as we would problematize text.  He also examines the use of symbols as a way of understanding cultures with limited or no archival presence – something I talk about in the film.  Perhaps this is something for me to consider in my Reflection paper about cultural symbols, archival gaps, and the problematizing of cultures as texts.

My plan to meet with Rose-Gabrielle about her role as voice actor for the Mary Ann Shadd character didn’t take place.  RG was sick and we have yet to reschedule, but that is on my to-do list for the coming week.

I don’t yet have the final versions of the music, but that is not urgent, and I’ve told Jenna, the pianist as much.

And I didn’t hear back regarding the request that I put in with LAC, but I think with my own research and also some very nicely offered input from Dr. Miller’s wife, Mary Margaret, who is an LAC archivist, I have what I need.

So this coming week I plan to reschedule with Rose Gabrielle, confirm my interview plans in Toronto, and go through the Treatment to find any images and sound clips that I am going to need and don’t already have.

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Lots of Activity and Some Celebrity Status – Thu January 15, 2015

There has been a huge flurry of activity over the past week and good progress on my Treatment document as well.  First, I was delighted to obtain the agreement of CBC news anchor and Carleton U MA history student, Adrian Harewood, to be the narrator for my film.  He will make an excellent contribution and lend a little celebrity status, at the same time.

I have also just obtained the agreement of a senior Justice Canada lawyer, named Rose-Gabrielle Birba, to be the voice actor for Mary Ann Shadd.  She called the house last December to talk to my husband and I was immediately taken by her voice and commanding tone, and we will meet soon to talk about the role.

Both Adrian and Rose-Gabrielle are African Canadians, and as such, help to offer cultural legitimacy and ground my film within the Black community.

As I typed those last lines, it occurred to me that I wanted to send my Concept Proposal to the four interviewees in Buxton/Chatham for their input.  And I’ve crafted the email but will wait until tomorrow to send it.  I realized that, according to my Ethics agreement, today is the last day for them to bail out on being in the film, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that involvement.   I’ve been inserting portions of their interview transcripts into the Treatment document and really want to keep their contributions.

Regarding interviews, I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing with Adrienne Shadd, archivist Adam Birrell, Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost and the Media Production Centre at Carleton to arrange to do on-camera interviews on Feb. 6 in Toronto.  So far, it’s all looking like it’s a go – fingers crossed.

I have also been able to listen to pianist Jenna Richards’ first crack at “Steal Away (to Jesus).”  The music is going to be beautiful.  She is going to do a couple of additional things and send me final versions this coming weekend, if all goes well in her busy schedule.

I’ve got a request for information in to Library and Archives Canada about the year when they started collecting Black historical archives.  My own research indicates that the first was in 1960, with one additional collections being added in 1964, and others in the 1980s.  It’s a bit hard to tell the dates since the Date field has in it the range of dates of the items in the collection – their dates of origin – and the date of collection may or may not be listed within the comments.

I now have a rough but more or less complete version of the Treatment.  I need to go back through it to describe the visual imagery, sound and music that will accompany the narrative.  And I want to think more about special treatment effects that will make the film more compelling.

This project has many challenges.  For one thing, it has a lot of moving parts, and keeping them all moving forward is a bit of a juggling act.  Secondly, many of these “moving parts” are people with their own interests, worries and busy schedules, and working within their needs, while keeping people excited about the project is a constant consideration.  Both of these “project management”-style challenges must be set aside, however, when I want to get into the historical-theoretical elements of the narrative.  I don’t want technical issues to overtake the real messages – the ones that make people think – and that requires a different “hat” to be worn, and a different mindset.  And on top of all of that, there is another hat to wear: that of the artist.  I want this film to be beautiful and stirring.  SOOOOO – a lot to think about, and a lot of hats to wear.

This coming week I hope to meet with Rose-Gabrielle about her role as Mary Ann Shadd, and to obtain some final versions of the music.  I will also, likely get some information back from LAC.  But most importantly, I need to get the Treatment finalized and submitted.

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Right Back Into It – Thu January 8, 2015

Happy New Years all!  I’ve been right back into work on the film since Tuesday as I am starting to feel the pressure of knowing that this needs to be an actual film by April 23.  The good news is that things are coming together.

Jenna Richards, the pianist, has done several versions of “Steal Away (to Jesus)” for me to listen to.  So far I haven’t been able to unzip the files, but if I can’t, I’ll get her to put them on some sort of portable media and get them from her when I see her next week.

I’ve spent much time over the past few days trying to establish a date to go to Toronto to do the next set of interviews.  I am delighted to have Adrienne Shadd lined up.  She is the great (x3) niece of Mary Ann Shadd, and also co-author of The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto! along with Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost and Dr. Afua Cooper.  Adrienne Shadd has also published two other books on Black history.

As well, Dr. Smardz Frost is going to be in Toronto from Nova Scotia on Feb 6, and is keen to do an interview, so I am trying to line up Adrienne and the senior archivist at Archives of Ontario, Adam Birrell, to interview on that day.  It’s all a bit tricky, since everybody is coming from out of town except Adam.

I’ve also been working on some research to confirm the effective burial of Black history in Canada up until the 1970s and 80s.  I was pleased to get some information from Ontario Heritage Trust about their historic plaques program.  They were able to send me the years that each of the 23 Black Heritage plaques were unveiled, confirming the notion that Black Heritage grew in importance to Ontario during and after the 1960s and more again in the 1990s and 2000s.  This result is supported by a search of scholarly publications about Black history in Canada.  (It’s also supported by things that scholars of Black history say, but I wanted to check for myself.)

Finally, I’ve been making pretty good progress on the Treatment, and am still aiming to have it submitted to Drs. Miller and Walsh on January 22.  It’s taking me longer that the Treatment for my first film since I’m trying to attach more scholarly rigour to it, including adding citations… something that I didn’t have to do for my previous film.

So this coming week I hope to confirm the date of my trip to Toronto – aiming at this moment for Feb. 6 and possibly Feb 7.  As well, I hope to hear the music that Jenna has recorded and see if that needs any additional work.  And finally, I want to keep pushing on the Treatment.  I am also conscious of the fact that I need to find more visual imagery for this film.  But it’s easy to get sidetracked from the Treatment and go hunting for images, so I’m trying not to do that.

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Archivists, Interviews, the Treatment and the Holidays – Thu December 18, 2014

I did better this week on completing the things I intended.  First of all – and in a way that gives me some comfort, given that I have an old laptop – I made a back-up of all my stuff, including still images, b-roll footage, bought footage, and my own written work and research.

I also made some good progress on the Treatment.  However, I’m reaching the point where I am missing having the interviews with the Archivists and with Adrienne Shadd in Toronto.  I’ve been able to use content from the interviews that I did last October in Chatham and Buxton for some of the early portions of the film.  And I hope to be able to continue to make progress with the Treatment using more of that material for the end of the film.  But the whole middle section of the film relies on academic interview material that I don’t yet have.

To that end, I spent some time this week on the phone with one of the archivists in Toronto, discussing the kinds of information I want to know about.  So that process is moving forward, and we are starting to look for dates in late January for me to go to Toronto.  I have also sent an email to reconnect with Adrienne Shadd in Toronto, to try to coordinate to interview her during the same trip.

I have sent my Concept Proposal to Adrienne for her  background information about the film, and also to see if she thinks I am going astray in an inappropriate way in discussing Black history.  Per the suggestion of my supervisors, I have also sent this proposal to the four descendents of Mary Ann Shadd that I interviewed in Chatham and Buxton to solicit their feedback about portrayal of Black history.

Since the next round of interviews won’t happen until around the time the Treatment is due, I will plan to discuss my approach in the Treatment, including visual imagery, and use that to fine-tune my interview questions.  Then I will have the results of the interviews for the next component: the Script.

As I reflect on this project compared to the previous film project I worked on during my undergraduate program, I find that I want to be more rigorous about documenting my sources.  In the undergraduate project this was not required, beyond listing the books used in a bibliography.  But I think that, for the purposes of this project I want to footnote my material, and the Treatment document is the best place to do this.

Too often, films are criticized for being inaccurate.  And while I subscribe to a certain amount of creativity and artistic license, the underlying factual content should be defensible.  Clifton Johnson, one of the lead historical consultants for Steven Spielberg’s film Amistad conceded that the film reached a larger audience in a few months than he had reached during the forty years of his academic career. But he bemoaned the fact that he feared he would “spend the rest of [his] life correcting the errors” of the film.[i]

This will be my last blog until Thursday January 8.  I hope to do a bit more work on the Treatment, but by and large, I will be taking a break so that I will be ready to head back into school work in January.  Happy (and safe) holidays to all.

[i] Iyunolu Folayan Osagie, The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone, (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000), 122.

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