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Kickstart When the Drum is Beating

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Whitney Dow

Whitney Dow is an award-winning filmmaker whose directing credits include the 2002 Sundance Film Festival documentary Two Towns of Jasper and the Documentary Film Grant recipient When the Drum is Beating, among others. He is using Kickstarter to help fund global distribution of When the Drum is Beating. Click here to help the film reach its goal. 

I am heading to Port au Prince tomorrow to screen When the Drum is Beating in Haiti for the first time.  A wonderful Haitian filmmaker, Rachele Magliore, has translated the film into Haitian Creole and recorded Haitian actors’ voices to replace the English speakers who appear in the film. We are going to be holding free outdoor screenings on large inflatable screens in camps for people displaced by the earthquake, and because illiteracy is a huge problem in Haiti, we felt we needed a version of the film that everyone could understand. It is ironic that Haitians who appear in the film speaking English (because the film was made originally for American public television) have now been overdubbed in Creole. Go figure.

I must say that I am a bit nervous about these screenings, as I am sensitive to my position as another (white) outsider who is telling a Haitian story. Haitians, very rightly, are sensitive about how there country is portrayed in the media, and while When the Drum is Beating is celebratory, it also has some very tough content. And although I see the film as apolitical,  the reality is that everything in Haiti is political.  It should be interesting.

We are about three weeks from the end of our Kickstarter campaign, and I have some thoughts on what has developed thus far. It is much harder than I thought it would be—the highs are incredibly high, and the lows are brutal. Help comes from some of the most unexpected places, as does surprising silence.  As someone who has funded my films in very traditional ways and played my cards close to the vest, it has been extremely difficult to publically request help. However, by doing so I have made connections that will live on far beyond this campaign. When you are going for a grant or a television sale, you are looking for that one great connection that will lead to the big deal that solves everything. With Kickstarter, incrementalism is the key. There is a Creole proverb that sums up the experience: “Piti piti zwazo fè nich li,” which means “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”

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Sundance Institute Piloting Direct Individual Support for Mediamakers Through the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in general, and halted production and distribution for many creatives, the nonfiction field was plagued by issues of sustainability. For several years, sustainability has been an urgent and vigorous topic of study, debate, and organizing, as more and more filmmakers find it difficult, if not impossible, to make a living solely on the basis of their creative work. 

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