2008-05-29 / News

Islander explores northern slave traders in her documentary film

By Rudd Hall

Elizabeth Delude-Dix, left, Alla Kovgan, Katrina Browne, and Sara Archambault took their film "Traces of the Trade" to the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film will make its local debut at the Newport Film Festival in June. Elizabeth Delude-Dix, left, Alla Kovgan, Katrina Browne, and Sara Archambault took their film "Traces of the Trade" to the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film will make its local debut at the Newport Film Festival in June. Elizabeth Delude-Dix of Jamestown worked with producer/ director Katrina Browne on the independent documentary, "Traces of the Trade," which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival. The film has been invited to screen at Newport's annual film festival.

Delude-Dix was an executive producer on the project and explains her position, saying, "I worked on everything from finding shots, to voiceovers, to historical research, approaching broadcasters, everything to make the film run smoothly."

"We're absolutely delighted after nine years of being in production that we finished the film and it was as well received as it was at Sundance and we're looking forward to Newport," said Delude- Dix.

For the past 10 years the Newport Film Festival has grown dramatically into one of Americas leading regional film festivals and has been compared to "a mini Cannes," referring to the Cannes Film Festival which is held annually in May in the south of France.

The festival begins on Tuesday June 3 this year and will run for five days, showcasing a wide array of films- documentaries, shorts, animation, as well as international films. Rhode Island filmmaker, Cherry Arnold's Emmy awarded film "Buddy," was screened in last year's festival.

In "Traces of the Trade" Brown recreates the story of her forefathers, the DeWolf's, who were the largest slave trading family in United States history. The family participated in the slave trade from 1769 to 1820, with ships sailing from Bristol, Rhode Island to West Africa, trading rum for African slaves- men, women and children. From Africa the slaves would be taken to plantations in Cuba or sold at auctions in the port towns of Havana and Charleston. Browne's ancestors transported thousands of Africans across the Middle Passage (referring to the course taken from Africa to the New World) into a life of slavery; making James DeWolf, U.S. senator at the time, the second richest man in the United States.

In an effort to understand their family's lucrative and violent past, descendants who range from ages 32 to 71 retrace the course of the Triangle Trade, as they travel from Bristol, Rhode Island to the coast of Ghana, and finally to a family plantation in Cuba. They face the issues of how and why such an injustice could have taken place as well the hard question: who owes who what for the sins of the fathers of this country? What can be done to fix the past if possible, what would it take?

"But," as Delude-Dix commented, "Katrina was intrigued because although she knew of her families past, she realized that it was not only just her family, but all of the North dealt in the slave trade."

Delude-Dix said she first became interested in the project while attending a conference in Flint, Michigan geared toward advocating democracy for artists, activists, and academics, and at the time she was teaching historic preservation at Salve Regina University in Newport. She saw a "rough cut," of the film, and the content immediately roused her interest. "This was a film that really needed to be made, and it was a long way from being finished, so I told Katrina to get in touch with me if she needed any help, because while I was watching these clips I realized this isn't just one story, this is all of our stories, this is how our nation was founded, this is the legacy of the history we all share."

This is Delude-Dix's first feature film documentary, but she was not the only islander to contribute to the process. Ann Jane and Eidi Valentine, both of Jamestown, stepped up when they heard a fellow Jamestowner was involved in such an important project. "Ann put the entire film crew up at her home at Sundance, and Eidi personally flew out to organize the premiere party, both of them were really great, because in independent films you need all the help you can get," said Delude-Dix.

Since Sundance, "Traces of the Trade" has sold their broadcasting rights to PBS, which runs a well respected documentary series call POV, for Point of View. Traces is scheduled to be the premiere offering of the 2008 season, Delude- Dix said. PBS is one of the few networks that screens independent documentaries, she added.

Since her work on "Traces of the Trade," Delude-Dix has, written, directed, and produced two short films: "Stories for Stone" and "No Simple Truth," both dealing with issues of slavery in the United States.

"Traces of the Trade" will be shown on Wednesday, June 4, at 3 p.m. at the Opera House, Thursday June 5, at 8 p.m. at Jane Pickens Theatre, and on Saturday June 7, at 1p.m. again at the Opera House, all in Newport.

Related to the film festival will be a book discussion at the Redwood Library on Wednesday, June 4 at 11 a.m., which will focus on "Inheriting the Trade," by Thomas DeWolf. There will also be a discourse on the history behind the film, with, Jim Campbell, Keith Stokes and James DeWolf on Friday, June 6, at 4 p.m. at the Colony House, both events are open to the public and free of charge.

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