2009-09-03 / Front Page

Island filmmaker receives Emmy nomination

By Eileen M. Daly

One never knows where a casual chat might lead. For islander Elizabeth Delude-Dix, a simple conversation has led all the way to an Emmy-nominated film.

Delude-Dix was an adjunct professor of cultural and historic preservation in an undergraduate program she helped develop at Salve Regina University when she met filmmaker Katrina Brown at a gathering of artists and activists. Back then, Delude-Dix said, the film – which tells the story of Katrina Brown’s forefathers – was struggling through some difficult processes.

“Making a documentary film often takes many years wherein there are high and low points, as well as serious challenges. I’d already been involved with public radio and I thought I might be able to help with some of those challenges,” she said about her meeting with Brown.

She and Brown decided to collaborate on the development of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North.

Today, that film has been nominated for an Emmy award.

Delude-Dix is a founder of Rhode Island’s first public radio station, WRNI, and a past vice president of the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio. In that role, she said, she had already dealt with some of the kinds of issues Brown was facing at the time.

Initially, she thought her help would be more moral support than anything else, she said. Instead, she became co-producer/executive producer for the film and then went on to write, produce and direct several short films of her own.

“I sort of fell into filmmaking. We were all pretty much newbies at the time. This was Katrina’s first film as well and my role kind of grew over time,” she said.

‘Hidden, but in plain view’

Traces of the Trade tells the story of Brown’s ancestors, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. The film challenges the traditional historical emphasis on slavery as a southern enterprise through the simple presentation of the fact that Brown’s ancestors were all northerners.

According to the film’s website – www.tracesofthetrade.org – Brown’s ancestors, the DeWolf family, transported more than 10,000 enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage and amassed an enormous fortune through slave trading.

The film contends that the enslavement of Africans in the North was in no way restricted to the DeWolf family. Rather, the film contends, the Triangle Trade drove the northern economy and slavery itself existed in the North for more than 200 years. The film follows 10 DeWolf descendents as they struggle to come to terms with their legacy and how best to respond to it.

Delude-Dix said it was the subject matter that initially drew her to the project.

“This idea that something is hidden, but in plain view was quite compelling. I had a great education and if anyone had the opportunity to know this, it would have been me,” she said.

Delude-Dix has a master’s degree in historical preservation from the Columbia School of Architecture. Still, she said, the role of slavery as the economic engine in the northern U.S. was not something she knew much about.

“This was big business and I was surprised that I knew so little about it,” she said.

A long and difficult road

The film itself has garnered a good deal of attention. But the road to an Emmy nomination is a long and difficult one, Delude- Dix said, beginning with years of work – Traces of the Trade took five years to complete – followed by some luck in terms of broadcasting placement.

Traces of the Trade was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, a major publicity boon for the film.

“Having your film accepted to the Sundance Film Festival is a really big deal because it launches your work in the best possible way,” she said.

The film also enjoyed a prime spot on PBS, Delude-Dix said.

Traces of the Trade was fortunate to be showcased on PBS as a premier of their POV season. The producers then recommended the film for Emmy consideration,” she said. According to Delude-Dix, the broadcast showing was crucial “because you cannot be nominated for an Emmy unless the film is shown on television.”

Delude-Dix’s own short films also portray slavery in Rhode Island.

Those films, Stories from Stone and No Simple Truth, were completed prior to the completion of Traces of the Trade and were screened on Rhode Island PBS. Delude-Dix also recently returned from a two-week trip to South Africa, where she taught seminars using her short films and also screened the feature-length film Traces of the Trade at a cinema in Cape Town at the invitation of the uBunto Project.

Delude-Dix is also a co-producer of First Face, a documentary currently in production.

As for upcoming projects, “There are a number of film projects under consideration,” she said, “but none that are far enough along to talk about.”

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