Tag Archives: Historical Filmmaking

Light at the End of the Tunnel – Thu April 2, 2015

I think the light is at the end of the tunnel – at least for the film.  I was in the edit suites for the whole day yesterday putting some final touches on the film and making a 3-minute trailer.  I realized once I got home that I need to make another edit to the credits, but I was going to have to go in again anyway.  The media guys apparently do a sound levelling assessment, so I will need to go in to listen to that.

I also need to buy myself some portable storage media.  The complete high resolution film requires 30 Gb of storage, and even the compressed “Youtube” version is 4.6 Gb.  As well, if I want to keep the entire project as an editable library, I need a 500 Gb hard drive.  So I have some purchases to make.

Meanwhile, I’ve made a bit more progress on the Reflective Essay and have been writing about James C. Scott’s “hidden transcripts” from the book loaned to me by Dr. Walsh entitled Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.  I’m planning this weekend to spend some time looking at the book that Dr. Miller suggested, Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History.  My challenge over the next week is going to be getting time to myself to work: John (my partner) retired as of yesterday and his presence around the house is a distraction.  I guess it’s just a lucky thing that he didn’t retire last September.

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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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A film in the Borderlands – Thu March 19, 2015

In my historiography class we’ve been talking about the Borderlands approach, and I realize that my whole project operates within that zone and that approach.  It can be seen geographically, in the 19th century migration of African Americans back and forth across the US – Canada border, and the evolution of each nation’s laws respecting extradition and protection, and of separation, control and repression.  But my project also seems to reflect a “virtual borderland” within Canada West.  It is a borderland that lies between the races, as well as within the Black community in Canada West: a borderland between freeborn and newly-free.  Mary Ann Shadd might also have seen a virtual borderland (although she wouldn’t have called it that) between the segregationists and the non-segregationists (such as herself), as well as between men and women; all of these, including race, being human-constructed borderlands.

Today I spent the day in the edit suites – as I have much of this week – and the film is coming along well.  I need to find some more sounds of demolition while I’m at home.  The demolition video that I bought and downloaded is ‘silent film’ so I have to supply all the corresponding sounds and fit them into the timeline so that they match the visual action.  Right now, I’m re-using the same crash sounds too often, and you notice – well I notice – the repetition.  I also want to re-record the poems.  And there are a slew of other problems that need attention.  My plan is to have the film complete – or at least close to complete – by the end of next week so that I can devote time to my paper, as well as my other coursework.

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There’s a film – Thu March 12, 2015

I should never write a blog post after 11pm on a night of drinking, but tonight was also a night of thinking and discussing.  So not so far from what academic study is about, right?

Tonight I had my book club here and we talked about Wayne Johnston’s the Custodian of Paradise.  A tragic, sorrowful, sort-of-romantic story of 20th century Newfoundland.  But halfway through the story, the protagonist feeds her lover, Joey Smallwood, pan-fried trout and potatoes, out on the Bonavista train-line, in her isolated cabin in the dead of winter. (It’s actually not so romantic at that point, as bitter and unfortunate, as is so often the case in life.)  Anyway, tonight, I made the same for dinner, and one of the guys helped me cook, so it turned out okay.

But this is what my film feels like.  Making history into something tangible. Something so real you can taste it.

The film is in that stage.  The stage of feeling it.  Hearing the words.  Listening to the music.  Are the sounds right for the message?  At this point it’s a creative thing and I want to listen more than anything.  Will the audience hear the meaning that I’m sending?  And will they also feel something?  Will it make them think?  It’s like painting on a ‘film’ canvas.  I’m at the point – in public history – of trying to anticipate the feelings of my audience.  And trying to steer that feeling to my understanding of nineteenth-century Canada West.  Trying to make them believe what I believe.

As fluid as this sounds, this is the departure point, where the historical narrative turns into a personal experience.  It’s actually like that…the audience feeling like they are living the historical moment.  A sort of transformative event, when the observer lives the historical moment.

Ummmm…okay.  So that’s it for tonight.  It’s now closer to 1am. More straight-forward stuff in future.  I promise.

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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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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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