by Chris Campbell
I have a theory about filmmaking and more specifically, filmmakers. Deep within those who feel compelled to tell stories visually I believe there is a recessive gene. The filmmaking gene. Some people have it and unless you have it, it’s hard to explain the drive to fill a screen with a story that moves you.
Errol Williams has that recessive gene, and I think that it’s wrapped up into my DNA too. Since you’re reading this, you probably have it as well.
I had known Errol casually through being a member of the Film Co-op, but had never really worked him. Documentarian Ron Mann gave a workshop at the coop and it was great. At one point he asked people about their ideas for films and Errol told everyone about Willie O’Ree, who broke the colour bar in the National Hockey League. I was hooked. During a break I talked with Errol in the doorway of the equipment room and I told him that I really wanted to help him with it. I didn’t know exactly what I could do on the project, I just wanted to be involved.
The short version of the story is that 6 years later I had moved up from doing sound, some research and some editing to being a coproducer along with Tony Merzetti. The other thing that happened during that period is that I got to work a lot with Errol and Tony to do some of the most enjoyable work I’ve ever had the opportunity to do. I also made a couple of life long friends.
After “Echoes in the Rink: The Willie O’Ree” story was completed I didn’t really get to work with Errol much at all as he was in Bermuda and in 2000 I moved to Nova Scotia. My work there was wrapping up in November of 2001 which I casually mentioned to Errol in an email. I didn’t receive an message back, but a phone call. Errol was finishing up production of a documentary about social protest movements in Bermuda and he needed an editor. I, of course, said “yes!”
Following some email exchanges with the outline of the story, Errol came up from Bermuda and dropped off a stack of photographs and newspaper articles in December. I began scanning the material and learning more about the story. In January Errol moved into the house and brought 40 or so tapes of interviews, cutaways and archival footage.
The film tells the story of the Theatre Boycott of 1959, in Hamilton, Bermuda. The two main movie theatres had segregated seating with the balcony and centre section reserved for those whose skin was white and the rest of the theatre was open to those whose skin was darker. Segregation ran throughout Bermudian society and an anonymous group decided to organize a boycott of the theatres. Two weeks after the boycott began the hotels, restaurants and movie theatres all were desegregating. You’ll have to see the film for more detail.
We dove in and started logging and digitizing the footage into Final Cut Pro 3, running on my G3 PowerBook running under OS X. With an external 80 G FireWire hard drive and Final Cut’s OfflineRT mode we were able to digitize something like 35 hours of footage with the drive only half full (or half empty depending on your point of view). With the transcripts that Errol read every night we were able to quickly view and assemble any shot from all of the footage. It made a huge difference and sped things up a lot.
By mid-February we had the rough cut and started integrating the visuals into the film. We moved over to one of the new flat-panel G4 iMacs to speed up rendering. Initially I thought that we would do some of the animation and compositing in AfterEffects, but we were able to do everything that we wanted to do in Final Cut. Another handy addition was a collection of shareware filters for Final Cut called Joe’s Filters. They helped tweak the look of the film.
The film was scheduled to premiere in Bermuda on April 13 and we’d finished off the cut for the festival just before midnight on April 12th. We needed to make two BetaSP copies for the festival so that began just after midnight. With nerves of steel we dumped it out to tape twice… with a 73 minute documentary it takes a while to make a copy! At 3:15am the last copy finished and 15 minutes later we were on our way to the airport so Errol could catch a 6:05am flight. My flight was a few hours later.
Errol arrived at 12:30, just 3 1/2 hours before the first screening and I arrived an hour later on a separate flight. We each had a copy of the film in BetaSP, miniDV, and VHS versions just in case. We quickly drove around to the two theatres and made it to the premiere with 10 minutes to spare. The screening started on time and went over very well with a standing ovation for Errol at the end. It was a huge relief as this was the first audience that had seen the film. It also was an audience made up of most of the people who were interviewed in the film and they liked it as well.
With the editing out of the way the only thing left for Errol to do was screen the film and answer questions. It was show 6 times during the festival and won the Audience Choice award at the closing gala. The day after the festival it began screening in the Liberty Theatre in Hamilton.
The reaction to the film reminded me of the Tidal Wave Festival last November in how people love to see and hear stories that they recognize. While this film wasn’t an NB Filmmakers’ Cooperative production it wouldn’t have been possible without the coop. With the experience, support, and friendship over our years at the coop we honed our skills and discovered that we too had the recessive gene that compels us to fill the screen with stories. It makes you realized that a coop isn’t made up of a collection of equipment but a group of friends and colleagues who help each other tell their stories.
You can find out more about the film at the Web site www.whenvoicesrise.com