Tag Archives: Emanuel documentary

19Feb/20

Jon-Sesrie Goff’s “After Sherman” Spotlights Preservation

Jon Sesrie Goff

The audience was quiet as their eyes were focused on a young Black man who narrated his family origins in South Carolina. His captivating voice segways into one of the most horrifying and inhuman events in recent years – the Emanuel Church shooting. It was emotional but the filmmaker/creative, Jon-Sesrie Goff, was able to orate the event passionately, beautifully and concluding with a peaceful ending. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the artist at the Pop-Up Magazine Winter Tour event in Washington, D.C. for an interview. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was your inspiration behind After Sherman?

Jon-Sesrie Goff (JSG):  It’s a feature-length documentary, that I started in 2014, that was supposed to be a visual survey of the Gullah Geechie corridor. This area existed from Southern North Carolina to Northern Florida. I was going for a very experimental, lyrical approach and it was not a personal film at all, but then I wanted to use it as an opportunity to talk to my family about our land and our Country, that was not used. I just wanted to use the camera to talk about the land. 

DDF: The short film version of After Sherman is what you are showing and narrating during the Pop-Up Magazine Tour, correct? 

JSG: Yes, the piece has evolved after the Charleston Church Shooting. I had a professor/filmmaker during grad school tell me that I didn’t have the luxury to make an experimental film about this subject matter because it required a strong narrative. For the following four years, I have been finding out through Pop-Up that I was able to hone my narrative voice without it feeling inauthentic. I worked with people who were like “Say this!” and “You deliver it so well!” but it wasn’t me speaking. 

With the shooting, I immediately went back because I didn’t want to be apart of the press mob. All my footage from the immediate aftermath is horrible because I was so nervous. There are moments where I was next to my mom and I didn’t want to film her during the emotional moment; I also wanted to protect others as well. So I took more photographs than video footage. A few weeks later I went back, did an oral history with church members, politicians, and people in the community, which is very different from the film I was making. Then I went back to do the ending shots of me standing amongst the country scenery and other visual treatments. 

DDF: You had a very emotional moment during your narration, how do you get through it every night? 

JSG: This night was emotional because my two cousins were here. They are also heirs to the properties that I mention in the film. My aunt, their mother, appears in the photographs in the film. This was the first time I had family members present at my show on this tour and that was really emotional. When I doing the piece, talking about it or working on it without family members around, I am able to desensitize myself. 

DDF: You are a well-rounded artist. How does this project differ from other forms of media that you use? 

JSG: Well, a personal documentary is one of the hardest things anyone can do. I apologize because I am a cinematographer and kept asking the cinematographers I was working with, why the film was not done yet because it takes a different type of care. I feel like, as a cinematographer and working in commercial spaces, I would be flown in the night before and out the next day, with that there’s no real attachment to the material. It’s just execution and less of myself present in it. When you put yourself out there like that, if you are a thoughtful person, you have to make careful decisions.

DDF: What were some of the reactions from some of your family and friends in Charleston after you showed them the film? 

JSG: After the shooting, there was a Sunday School convention scheduled to be at the church and they still had the convention. Two days after the shooting, kids from Emmanuel church were there. Every year it’s around the same time, so it’s like this weird moment of memorial services and then the convention. 

A year after the shooting, I went back and showed people my work in progress to the Sunday School convention. They were excited to see and pointing out people they know in the film and all the other stuff sort of fades away. I made this film so that people in the low country could appreciate how special and unique our culture is and how valuable our land is, that was it. People in the Emmanuel and Charleston Community have been very supportive of the project. 

DDF: How much did the documentary “Sherman’s March” influence your project? 

JSG: When I first started making it before the shooting. It was an inside joke because I love Sherman’s March, the first commercially successful documentary film. And it’s this guy going back to the south, tracing his family steps and there’s like one scene with black people. I was like “That’s really hard to do?” It’s hard to go down south and the only encounter you have the Black people are with some kids. I respect, Ross McElwee as a filmmaker immensely but I was thinking to myself, “I wanna do After Sherman and it’s going to be about all Black people.” I actually shot the opening sequences shot by shot but it may not make it into the film. 

I was happy to see the show and honored to interview Jon, especially because of his previous work with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Pop-Up Magazine 2020 Winter Tour is wrapping on February 22, 2020, but be on the lookout for the full feature film After Sherman by Jon-Sesrie Goff. Website.

07Oct/19
Emanuel

Emanuel Documentary is About the Power of Faith Amidst Hate

Inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

It was as if a pine cone was lodged in my throat and my heart was sinking into my stomach when I watched the documentary Emanuel. Revisiting the story of the nine black people that were killed in a mass shooting by Dylan Roof in Charleston, SC was an emotional roller coaster that I was not ready for. The Steph Curry and Viola Davis executive produced the film was a chilling documentary that reminds its viewers about the power of faith, the destruction of hate, and the state of racial discrimination in America. 

The intro featured a clip of the moving and memorable eulogy given by President Barrack Obama for the funeral of the Emanuel massacre. I remember this moment and the post devastation that many were in after the event and how the following events further perpetuated the bias that the criminal system had against people of color. 

Nadine Lance Collier lost her mother Ethel Lance in the Emanuel shooting.

Emanuel gives an in-depth perspective of the event and things following it. Those featured include the families of the victims, Dot Scott (Charleston NAACP Branch President), Muhiyida D’bhana (Black Lives Matters Founder), Phillip Pickney (Activist), media that covered the event, historians, South Carolina’s political figures, and survivor, Polly Shepard. 

History of Charleston 

The film starts off explaining some of the historical roots of Charleston, SC and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Going back to the time of the 1800s during slavery, a section of the film I found to be very interesting showed the connection between religion and racism in South Carolina. I really found the short history lesson about Denmark Vessy to be very enlightening and conducted more research about him after I watched the film. He is a former slave that bought his freedom through a lottery and, later, became one of the founders of the AME church. Charged and executed for an uprising of the slaves, Vessey was a very important figure in the AME community. 

Loved Ones

Pastor Anthony Thompson remembering his loving wife, Myra, killed in the Emanuel church massacre.

Pastor Anthony Thompson told a beautiful story about the ritual he had with his wife. They would see each other at the door with a kiss. He expressed how blessed she felt on that day, how much more full of life she was. Stories like this one were refreshing and gave me a break from the wave of negative emotion I felt during the course of the film. 

Another moving story was told by Nadine Lance Collier. Her welcoming and charismatic persona held my attention as she shared stories about her mom, Ethel Lance, one of the nine people killed in the shooting. She expressed how optimistic her mother was and, from her description, I could tell that her mom had a pure soul that the world lost.  

Revisited

It was entriguing how the film summarized an origin for Dylann Roof and his life before he committed his crime. The fact that his actions/ideas were sparked by the Trayvon Martin case was surprising. Society speaks about how rap music and violent video games are the cause for destructive behavior, yet here we have the racist acts of others influencing people to think maliciously. 

Survivor of the Emanuel shooting Polly Shepard.

The most disturbing recollection and description of the massacre was from the survivor, Polly Shepard. She fought through tears as she recalled the events of the shooting, her conversation with Roof, and witnessing him shoot her already wounded son. I felt angered when I heard her speak, I wanted to hug her through the screen, and I couldn’t understand how a “mentally disturbed” individual killed innocent people in cold blood, especially after they welcomed Roof in their church with open arms. 

“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.” – President Obama, the eulogy at the Emanuel funeral. 

When the film spoke about and showed the footage of how Roof was apprehended, it reaffirmed that America has a racial bias in the law enforcement system that cannot be ignored. I couldn’t help but think about the many innocent Black people that have had police officers draw guns on them and, in some cases, were killed, while Dylann Roof was calmly taken in without force after murdering nine innocent Black people.

Live and Let Love  

The documentary revisited the verdict of the trial, some of the victim’s family members expressed their forgiveness to Dylann Roof. There are many curious about their forgiveness, including myself, but this documentary allowed the family members to explain their reason. 

The film ended telling the stories of the victims’ family members, how they are dealing with the loss, how they are moving on, how their faith has helped them, and their real struggles with the battle. 

Emanuel was a well structured and touching film that I think many should watch. Especially after hearing the verdict and following events of the Amber Guyger case. If you can’t understand the power of faith and forgiveness, the documentary Emanuel will definitely show you how.

Emanuel

Release: Oct. 11, 2019 

Directred by: Brian Ivie

Distributed by: Fathom Events