Tag Archives: Black history in Canada

Final Work on Film, Plus Reflection – Thu March 26, 2015

This week has been largely devoted to my film but I also spent a bit of time on my Reflective Essay.  I find I have many ideas, and they change from week to week.  But my general thinking is that I want to talk first about the research side of the project – the history, and then to theorize the film-making side of the project.

The film is relatively complete, but I am going to take some time away from it now.  I think I need to have some distance from it, so that I can approach it with new (-ish) eyes.  I will go in again next week to finalize it.  I also want to create a trailer, since that seems to be what the Montreal International Film Festival wants.  Ultimately, I am going to be about 2 weeks ahead of schedule on the film part of the project (relative to my work plan) but I needed to do that since the edit suites close for use on April 10. And this will allow me time to work on my Reflective Essay (and another Take-home Exam.)

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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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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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Bad Planning, but Still Progress – Thu December 11, 2014

When I look back at what I said, last week, that I’d do this week, it seems to me I should actually pay at least a little bit of attention to my original plans.  I said I’d work on the Treatment and look for a map.  And I actually DID make progress on the Treatment, but I never looked for a map.

Instead I did a bunch of other things.  I had a conversation with one of the archivists from Ontario Archives, and she told me that the archivists don’t have subject-matter portfolios but rather – I think – technical specialties.  Anyway, she asked me to send her some questions that I would like to ask in an on-camera interview, and I did that.  In fact, I sent her quite a few, with various options so that hopefully she can find an archivist (or two) who can do an interview with me.

I also bought my 1960s home video clips of a house being demolished by a bulldozer.  There are three clips and they ended up costing $157.  I had thought they’d be $135 but that price turned out to be in USD, and with our current Canadian Peso, the price goes up.

I also had some delays with the downloading of the clips.  After making the purchase online, I was offered the option to have my downloads in one of three formats: ProRes, H264, and PhotoJPEG.  This meaning nothing to me, I turned to our oh-so knowledgeable Media Production Centre, and Hasi Eldib was able to point me in the right direction.  So I now have 3 massive Prores film clips of a house being knocked down.

I am also quite keen to add a distinctive and poignant quotation to this film, and have been looking at some work by Black authors, but haven’t settled on anything yet.

On a more reflective note, I’ve been looking at  Shelley Ruth Butler’s book Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa, and am reminded of the perils and potential pitfalls of being a white person putting Black history into the public domain.  One of the reasons that this ROM exhibit drew such criticism is that the curator, Jeanne Cannizzo, didn’t involve the Black community in the creation of the exhibit.  For my film I already have input from, and three on-camera interviews with four members of the Black community.  And I still hope to have an interview with one of Mary Ann Shadd’s great- great- nieces, Adrienne Shadd.  The quotation I plan to include will also, I hope, be by a Black writer.  As well, I have a couple of leads on people who might be my narrator and both are members of the Black community.  But I wonder if this is enough.  I wonder if I should ask, perhaps Dr. Diptee to have a look at my Concept Proposal, or maybe someone from African Studies.

Now that I have all this material on my hard drive, I am thinking that a good task for this coming week will be to make a backup.  Imagine if I lost all this?  And I’ve stuck a sticky-note reminder on my laptop to do this, since checking my blog to see what I’d planned to do, doesn’t seem to be working well.  That said, I will (try to remember to) this week continue my work on the Treatment.  And, hey, maybe I’ll even go find a map.

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Hitting Bumps in the Road, but Still Moving Forward – Thu December 4, 2014

Henry Bibb - c1850 - Bentley Historical Library - Public DomainThis week I seem to have run into lots of obstacles.  I bought the vintage film footage of the house being demolished ($135) but am still waiting to get some help on which version of the video I should download.  As well, my pianist has been busy and hasn’t had time to check out the options I sent to her.  And I’ve heard from the Ontario Archives, but haven’t found out yet who is going to be my on-camera interviewee.  However, this is why I started all these things early.  Sometimes it just takes a while for everything to fall into place.

In the meantime, Bentley Historical Library at U of Michigan got back to me with a confirmation about the source of the image of Henry Bibb, the editor of The Voice of the Fugitive.

As well, I have obtained several more sound effects, including one of children talking and playing, one of birds chattering, and three of wooden building demolition.  I also got two that can be my publishing sounds:  one is the sound of writing on paper, and the other is the sound of pages being turned.

After much searching, I finally settled on an image of the banner of Shadd’s Provincial Freeman newspaper.  I had to choose between a full page of the newspaper that was quite fuzzy, or the banner alone, which is quite clear.

Provincial Freeman - banner - 1854 - University of Virginia

I also did a little more work on the Treatment, but didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped.  Sadly, there don’t appear to be any photographs in existence of Shadd’s husband, Thomas F. Cary, nor are there any of her children, Sarah Elizabeth Cary and Linton Shadd Cary.

So this week I will hopefully make more progress on the Treatment, and will also have a look for a map of the northeast U.S. and central Canada that I can use.  I am thinking of creating a map animation showing Shadd’s movements around the area.

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Nov. 7, 2012 – Crossing the Detroit River…but which way?

This week I found a pretty interesting aspect of Black history in Canada which I will describe below.  But before I get to that, I will mention that I organized my virtual exhibit a bit this past week, as planned.  It still needs work but I have made progress.  Omeka suggests using standardized metadata values and I believe this is a good idea.  My background in Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence makes me wary of the problems of poor data quality.  Already, as I enter information for one exhibit item I have a hard time remembering what sorts of data values I used on other items, and I only have about 3 items!  So I created an Excel Spreadsheet with drop down lists of the data values that I intend to use for the different metadata fields in the exhibit. I can cut and paste valid values from the spreadsheet into the exhibit to keep the data consistent.  It’s not an ideal solution, but it helps.

I went on reading more of Fred Landon’s book, Ontario’s African-Canadian Heritage: Collected Writings by Fred Landon, 1918-1967, and was despairing a bit that he retained such a pro-Canada view of slavery throughout his life as a writer of history.  Even as late as 1967, he neglected to mention some of the negative aspects of Canada’s history of slavery (although the 1967 article was only partly about Canada.)

But then I read the 1919 article by Justice William Renwick Riddell, entitled “The Slave in Upper Canada.”  Perhaps his legal background led him to seek both sides of each story.  He begins the article by clearly asserting that Canada not only had slavery when it was New France, but that it continued to have slavery after the British took over, and sustained slavery until 1833.

We Canadians have a fond image of our country as a place where fugitive slaves took refuge after escaping from the U.S.  In particular, we think of slaves, as well as other Black refugees, coming across the Detroit River into Amherstburg, Ontario where they could find the hope of a better future.  But Justice Riddell points to an earlier period and makes quite a startling observation.  In the early 19th century, Blacks indeed escaped across the Detroit River, but they were escaping from Canada into the U.S.!  In 1787, the July 13 Ordinance of Congress in the U.S. disallowed slavery in any new state northwest of the Ohio River.  And in 1805, when Michigan was incorporated as a state, this ordinance came into full effect, and Detroit became a truly free destination for many escaping Canadian slaves.  This flight of slaves was so significant that in 1806 a Black militia was established in Detroit made up entirely of escaped Canadian slaves. (Riddell, p. 386)

From a historiographical standpoint, this tells me that at least some Canadian historians, as early as 1919, such as Riddell, were considering the Canadian Black experience from a different standpoint.  My observation up to this point had been that Canadian historians tended to view this history through rose-tinted glasses, and that the only balanced discussion came from observations made by people outside of Canada.  For example, Benjamin Drew’s 1856 book of slave narratives was more balanced, but Drew was American.  However, my sample size of readings is small so far, and I haven’t been able to settle yet on a clear idea.

So this coming week I will continue to review the literature.  I want to look at some other Canadian historians writing in the 20th century, as well as find some from the 19th century.  And I will also have a look for a picture of the 1806 Detroit Black militia of escaped Canadian slaves for my virtual exhibit.

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