Super exciting news! A few months ago, I was invited to submit an application for Kindle Project's Fall Award Cycle for documentary films. I thought it was a long shot, especially since I had unsuccessfully applied to so many grants over the past couple of years for the doc. Those of you who are filmmakers, know how tough the funding climate is in the documentary film industry. Well, apparently it wasn't a long shot but something meant to be. I was recently notified that I am one of nine dynamic filmmakers to receive financial support from Kindle Project! I read the email over and over again. It was the best thing that has happened since bringing on my new producer (Alex McDougald) and having the opportunity to screen a work in progress during the ReSignifcations Exhibition in Florence, Italy as part of the Black Portraiture[s] II Symposium. While we still have LOTS more money to raise, this award is definitely a huge blessing and will afford us the opportunity to make major moves on the film.
Thanks to the troopers who are just as supportive today as you were since we first began this journey.
Shout out to my researcher who works overtime to translate relevant breaking news on our facebook page, award-winning filmmaker Lyric Cabral for all of your encouragement and support over the past several months, and the entire Kindle Project team (Sadaf and Fatima) and Tas van Hattum.
Special thanks to my friends, colleagues and comrades in the Netherlands who are on the front lines now more than ever, voicing the fact that Black Lives Matter Globally.
It's been quite some time (a little under a year in fact) since my last update about the documentary that you all so passionately supported. Many of you have checked in about the film's progress. Others have lent support in a myriad of ways. And then there were some who just wondered what in the world was going on with the film. Well, to address some of your inquiries, over the past two years since we successfully launched this campaign, we've been on quite a roller coaster ride.
To save you the boring details, I've spent the year, applying for funding, securing top notch producers, researching the subject matter, participating in a fellowship at the United Nations in Geneva as well as Firelight Media's Producer's Lab Retreat for emerging filmmakers and working on a sample that will allow me to secure support needed to complete this film. I've faced many challenges and disappointments and learned more than I could have ever imagined about documentary filmmaking. The biggest lesson, perhaps is that good films not only take money but they take tons of patience, tenacity and time. There was a moment or two that I felt discouraged However, the recent wave of serendipitous events are evident that potentially powerful moments, happen exactly when they're supposed to. It's all a process. That said, I couldn't wait to share a few bits of incredible news with you! So, without further ado...
(insert drumroll please)
WORKING TITLE: The new working title of the film is The Black Dutchman. For those of you who have closely followed events in the Netherlands, you are aware of the vast changes that are happening nationwide related to race, Black people and Black representation. The film has morphed into something much broader than Zwarte Piet, which is only a small aspect of a much larger problem in Dutch society and this new title reflects this reality.
The NEW A-TEAM: I've brought on three heavy hitters to the team - dream hampton as Executive Producer, Alexandra McDougald and Numa Perrier as Producers. dream needs no introduction (but just in case, check out her website at dreamhampton.com). Alex, is an industry veteran, who produced Alive Inside, a 2014 Sundance award winning film and was the force behind Haile Gerima's distribution for Teza. Numa Perrier (Black & Sexy TV amongst other things), is also an award winning filmmaker and artist. The rest of the production team - Shawn Peters, Raoul Popma and Bouba Dola are still on board and are as excited about completing this film as I am.
INTERNATIONAL SNEAK PEEK: Perhaps the most exciting news of all is that a sample of The Black Dutchman will screen as part of the ReSignifications: European Blackamoors, Africana Re‐Stagings exhibition, curated by Dr. Awam Akpa, in conjunction with NYU's Black Portraiture[s] Symposium! The 6 minute work in progress will be on view at both Museo Stefano Bardini and at Galleria Biagiotti in Florence, Italy. Inclusion in this show is a huge honor and such an incredible opportunity for the film. I'll be exhibiting alongside an internationally renowned line up of painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers and choreographers including one of my mentors, Dr. Deborah Willis, founder of the symposium and several of my colleagues and friends. If you're traveling to Italy for any reason, please visit the exhibit. I'll also be moderating a panel titled Habitual Linesteppers: Constructing Blackness Beyond the Imagination featuring Ja'Tovia Gary, Dr. Allison Janae Hamilton, Charl Landvreugd, Fahamu Pecou and Numa Perrier. Come check us out. The exhibition will be on view May 29 through August 29, 2015. I won't be sharing it for public consumption online yet but you'll be the first people to get notified when I do.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special Thanks to everyone for your positivity and collective commitment to seeing this project through to its completion. So many people have been working in small and large ways to make this happen - everything from contributing to financing trips, contributing to historical and contemporary research, editing the work sample, doing research, assisting with our social media platform, sharing constructive feedback and sending grant opportunities my way. There's no way possible that this could be done without any of you. I am scheduled to travel back to the Netherlands later this year with hopes to complete post-production in 2016. Stay tuned for more updates and stay engaged on our facebook page. Lastly, to the Black Dutch community and non-Black allies and comrades in the Netherlands, I SALUTE YOU for all that you've done and all that you continue to do, to change society one confrontation at a time. Black Lives Matter Everywhere.
Until Soon, Shantrelle Director + Producer The Black Dutchman #theblackdutchman
Happy mid-2014! I hope that this message finds you in good health and spirits. It has definitely been a minute since my last update. So much has happened since then and I’m happy to finally be able to bring everyone up to speed with what’s going on with the film. If you completed the survey, you should have received your perks. Those of you who pledged at higher levels have more on the way.
As some of you all may know, last year, the Netherlands exploded over the Zwarte Piet issue. Much of the controversy happened after Dr. Verene Shepherd, the former chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent of the United Nations, vociferously denounced the holiday celebration as racist. As a result, millions of mostly white, pro-Zwarte Piet supporters went to social media to express their outrage over the statement and support of the tradition. Pro-Zwarte Piet protests were held and tensions flew. Anti-Zwarte Piet activists received death threats and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights were inundated with hundreds of thousands of hate mail. I also received some threatening messages and other negative feedback about the film from people who were not happy that their tradition was being shown in a non-positive light.
Despite some anxiety, I traveled to the Netherlands and stayed there for a month last November and December during the height of the holiday celebration to document the many protests and festivities that took place as well as attend Amsterdam's annual Sinterklaas parade. The anti-Zwarte Piet protests that occurred, were unprecedented. Hundreds of people from various backgrounds came out to express their outrage and frustration with the blackface tradition and its celebration. In response, the Dutch majority in many ways celebrated the holiday more passionately than ever before. I took note of the every day signs of racism that are interwoven in the holiday itself.
The energy was intense during those four weeks but I was humbled to be one of millions of people from both sides of the debate, who bore witness to one of the most historical moments in Dutch history. That would not have been possible without your financial support and the physical and moral support of my adopted family, friends, comrades and colleagues in the Netherlands who are dedicated to this project and committed to creating change in their own society. Special thanks to Bouba Dola for joining me in the trenches to capture much needed footage for the film during last year's holiday season.
I was able to travel to the Netherlands and spend two months there, doing research, attending conferences and lectures, meeting with scholars and activists and conducting documentation for the film. I was there during the 150th celebration of Keti Koti, which commemorates the end of Dutch slavery and then again for the Sinterklaas holidays. Over the past year, I submitted several grants applications that were not approved. Initially, it was a major blow and felt like a defeat. When I first began this project, I placed tremendous pressure on myself to have the film completed by the end of last year. After hitting a few roadblocks and seeking advice from veteran filmmakers, I realized that my timeline was a bit ambitious. With anything in life, the fastest route is not always the best road to travel. In hindsight, had that funding been awarded, the story that we would have captured would not have been as complete. With the many developments that have occurred in the Netherlands over the past several months alone, I’ve gained even more perspective about the kind of narrative that should be told, one less about shock value and more of an in-depth picture of how an environment that celebrates blackface, affects the lives of everyday people. With that said, making a film about such a controversial topic, in a foreign land, is definitely not as easy as I thought it would be. It has required patience, flexibility and a level of tenacity and resolve that has provided me with an extraordinary challenge and opportunity. A friend told me during a particularly stressful moment that "if a mountain was smooth, it couldn't be climbed." With that bit of inspiration, I pushed forward. I am a 1000% committed to this project and will do whatever it takes to produce a powerful finished product.
This past Spring, I was one of five fellows selected to participate in the Programme for People of African Descent at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. That afforded me the opportunity to engage with other Human Rights activists, including scholar-activist Su Girigori from Curacao, as well as the U.N.'s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and representatives from the Dutch Kingdom. They were already aware of the Zwarte Piet controversy and have since conducted an official country visit to the Netherlands and Curacao to investigate the status of people of African descent there. As a group, they released a formal post-visit statement urging the Netherlands to take bolder steps to address issues, including Zwarte Piet, that are detrimental to people of African descent living in the Netherlands and the Dutch Kingdom at-large.
Recently an experienced grant writer and a new producer have come on board and joined the A-Team. This November, the production team will be returning to the Netherlands to shoot more footage and interviews. We’re also working on a work sample to be shared with funders and our supporters later this year. If all goes well, I anticipate a finished product to be released late 2015/early 2016.
GENERAL ZWARTE PIET RELATED UPDATES
Over recent months, there have been significant developments around the Zwarte Piet issue. Here some links to a few:
You can follow weekly updates about the film and related topics on on our facebook page
Be on the look out for links to photo albums of my two visits to the Netherlands last year
You all are cordially invited to attend BlackStar Film Festival, a Philadelphia-based film and music fest featuring independent films from around the Diaspora. I'm an Advisory Board member for this amazing event and served as a juror for this year's Short Documentary competition, along with Tambay Obenson (Shadow and Act) and Dyana Williams.
I’m so appreciative for the steady encouragement and assistance that so many of you have extended on the journey to make this film not only something of high quality but of social significance with the potential to change society. I look forward to sharing more updates as the project progresses.
I hope that everyone's summer is getting off to a great start! As many of you all know, I am preparing for my next trip back to the Netherlands to conduct preliminary research for Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary as well as to cover some footage of the celebrations and events happening around Keti Koti and the 150th Year Celebration of the Abolishment of Slavery in Dutch territories.
Ideally, I will be spending much of my time identifying individuals with interesting stories and experiences related to the celebration of Zwarte Piet. While we will not start our main production until the Fall, we are interested in identifying key subjects now.
What we're looking for: *Individuals who are officially involved with Zwarte Piet celebrations and organizations (including the officials/individuals who organize the annual parades, Intocht, etc…)
*Families who host elaborate celebrations and traditions involving Zwarte Piet.
*Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet historians (and/or academics who have conducted extensive research on the topic).
*Journalists who regularly cover Zwarte Piet celebrations.
*Individuals who dress up as Zwarte Piet (particularly someone who has done so for many years and/or a young adult who is just beginning to dress up).
*Individuals who have been engaged in historic protests or resistance against Zwarte Piet (even if it was not highly publicized).
This is an opportunity for people interested in discussing the history, customs and traditions associated with Sinterklaas to potentially have their story included in the documentary.
Please Note: For individuals concerned about the overall approach of the film, while I may have on my own opinions about the celebration as an American, as a filmmaker and researcher, I'm committed to telling the most objective and nuanced story possible. Interesting films are those that explore all sides of a controversial issue and that's what I'm interested in accomplishing with this documentary. I would especially love to hear from people who hold his tradition near and dear to their hearts, who don't see it as problematic or racist and who are open to discussing the tradition in a very honest, intelligent, meaningful and respectful way.
For more information or if interested in being considered for participation in this project, please submit the following info:
Name: Age: Gender: Profession: Affiliation with Sinterklaas Celebration: A brief summary of how you celebrate the tradtion in 3 - 5 sentences:
Contact: Shantrelle P. Lewis Director | Producer Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview Dates: June 19 - June 29, 2013 Production Dates: November - December, 2013 The Netherlands