Hi! My name is Emily Branham, and I'm thrilled to be sharing a first look at the film I've been making about your favorite drag performer from Cameroon: BeBe Zahara Benet.
This film has been my personal, independent passion project for nearly 12 years. Along the way, I’ve had the great privilege of watching Bebe grow and mature as a performer – and as a human being.
Recently, BeBe interviewed me about how and why I've been making this film all this time. Check it out:
I've been following BeBe:
- from her early days as a promising amateur in Minneapolis, on her way to her first national pageant
- to winning the first season of reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race
- to moving to New York City
- to more than 5 years later, struggling to make ends meet
And now - a whole new exciting chapter is beginning! (OMG, All Stars 3!!!)
Behind BeBe (the diva), is Marshall (the man). The real meat of our film’s story takes place one hot and stressful summer in New York City, as Marshall is at the end of his rope – feeling pressure to give up on NYC, and maybe even on drag altogether. He decides to take one last shot at moving the needle for BeBe’s career, through a new live stage show called Reveal.
As part of his process for creating Reveal – and at the height of his self-doubt – he takes an intense and unconventional acting class all about accessing his truest, most authentic self. The vulnerability required for all this is especially challenging for Marshall, an immigrant to the US who grew up in Cameroon – a country where gender roles are highly rigid, to say the least. Over many sessions, Marshall transforms in emotional and surprising ways.
WHO AM I?
Yes, I’m a straight white woman from Minnesota, but this film is personal. I was a child actor, and have always been fascinated by how and why we all perform in everyday life, both in onstage and offstage situations. But more recently, I’ve realized that what really binds me to BeBe’s story is the theme of perseverance - throughout highs and lows, victories and disappointments, Marshall never gives up on his unconventional dreams. And neither do I.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
It’s a really exciting moment, as a whole new audience is getting to know BeBe through Drag Race All Stars 3. And with the Season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race launching imminently – a story about the rise and struggles of the very FIRST winner of the franchise feels even more relevant.
In order to share this story with the world, we need to raise completion funds.
Up until now, I’ve been making this film very independently, shooting/directing/producing the bulk of it myself with the help of donated and heavily discounted time and equipment from incredibly generous friends who believed in me and the project.
I've relied heavily on credit cards, which I’ve racked up and paid off goodness-knows-how-many-times now – thanks to my other work as a visual effects producer and director of docu-style web and commercial content. It's been a true labor of love for me, and despite all the struggles and roadblocks we've hit over the years, I've never doubted that it was worth it. I believe with all my heart that BeBe's story is important, and has the power to open minds and inspire other creative souls all over the world.
Thanks to a generous grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, we were able to hire an assembly editor to help us craft a solid structure and early-stages edit for the film. I had gathered hundreds of hours of material over a decade of following Bebe. Together we narrowed the footage down into an intimate, surprising, funny, and deep storyline. I'm really proud of where we landed. I think you're going to love it.
WHAT WE NEED
So now we just need to finish it. It’s so close. Much of the money we are raising through this Kickstarter campaign will go straight toward what often becomes one of the most crucial parts of documentary storytelling: hiring a seasoned documentary feature editor to elevate our current assembly edit and structure to the polished and artful fine cut that it wants to be.
If we raise more than our goal (wouldn't that be amazing??), that will go directly toward the next hard costs we'll encounter, including:
- a follow-up shoot with BeBe to wrap it all up in the present day
- an original musical score for the film that blends traditional Cameroonian sounds and rhythms with American pop/dance sensibilities
- sound design & an audio mix that makes our footage look even better
- color correction
- animated titles for a dreamy opening sequence
- festival application fees
- necessary insurances
PERKS PERKS PERKS
If you’re interested in being a part of the journey in a more significant way, you might consider making a significant financial contribution beyond the rewards levels listed here. To make a tax-deductible contribution, you may donate to the project via our fiscal sponsor, Women Make Movies. For anyone interested in making a major contribution, we'd love to discuss ways to recognize you in our film's credits at the discretion of our producing team. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for more details.
The way Kickstarter works is all or nothing - so if we don’t reach our baseline goal by midnight (EST) March 31, we will see zero dollars from this campaign. Now is the moment to share BeBe's story with the world, and it’s a really exciting time for you to join us on the journey. Please help us out by contributing whatever you can, and please tell your friends!
SAVE THE DATE: ASK BEBE ANYTHING!
This is exciting: We’ll be hosting a Kickstarter Live event with BeBe on Tuesday, March 6 at 9pm (Eastern Time) - right here on this page! At this event, BeBe will personally answer questions submitted in advance via social media and Reddit. You'll have the opportunity to interact with BeBe in real time via chat, Q&A, and selfies!
I am so grateful for the many people who have helped me on this project over the years. And I am ecstatic about the team I have now to help guide this film through the finish line.
We’ve assembled a stellar producing team, including producer Marc Smolowitz (13th Gen), co-producer Bat-Sheva Guez (Adventure Pants), and executive producer Jonathan Goodman Levitt (Changeworx).
We are joined by an incredible advisory board of thinkers and makers, including Natasha Johnson, Matamba Kombila, Avril Z. Speaks, and Diego Wyatt. These artists are lending their experience and expertise to important decisions around the editorial, outreach, and distribution processes of our film.
We are honored that Jonathan Oppenheim (editor of the seminal drag documentary masterpiece, PARIS IS BURNING), will be our consulting editor as we finish the film. Ann Rose was our indefatigable assembly editor. The delightful Chris Palazzo is our art director for titles design.
The incredible Grammy-award nominated sister duo from Cameroon and France, Les Nubians have agreed to participate in writing original music for the film, and we couldn’t be more excited to collaborate with these goddesses!
More information about our team members can be found on the BEING BEBE website.
Many thanks to the fine folks who helped on this Kickstarter, especially:
- Danger Vision Productions - camera & lighting, Behind the Scenes video
- Nick Hillyard - colorist, Behind-the-Scenes video
- Paul Michael - sound mixer, Work-in-Progress Trailer
- Ashley Ayarza - colorist, Work-in-Progress Trailer
- Brian Geldin - publicist
Special shout-outs to Chris Rojas and Terry Hastings, who collaborated heavily on photo & video projects with BeBe in her early years of drag in Minneapolis. Thank you for contributing your wonderful material to this film!!
And one more special thanks: to my family. Your support and help throughout this whole process – from making eggs and lending cars to being my PA at the bars downtown – means the world.
THANK YOU SO MUCH.
We’re excited for you to join us on this journey. We can't do it without you. And we really, really appreciate your support.
Risks and challenges
Sometimes documentary film projects take longer to complete than you hope. Goodness knows it's taken longer than we ever expected to get this far. Our intention is to finish this thing up swiftly in 2018, and no matter what happens, we promise to keep our backers in the loop along the way.
Successfully raising our goal amount will allow us to hire a seasoned documentary editor to elevate our current assembly structure into a more polished fine cut. Any additional funds we raise beyond our goal will go toward the final round of editing to picture lock, creating original music, sound mix/design, color correction, and festival submission fees – helping ensure swifter completion of the film.
As with any creative endeavor, there may be unforeseen delays or issues that come up and derail our best laid plan. Based on how much we have done already, and the track records of the amazing team we've assembled to help get it to the finish line, we're confident that we can get this thing finished and out in to the world expediently one way or another.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (33 days)