The purpose of this documentary is to retrace the liberation legacy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in three different locations united by common narratives related to struggles against enslavement and apartheid. The AME Mother Bethel Church was founded by Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1794, as the first protestant church ministered exclusively by former enslaved people. It became a legally incorporated denomination in 1816. Upon the request of the Haitian government, The AME sent 6,000 individuals to the island of Saint-Domingue between 1824-1826, two decades after this first Black Republic in the world came into being. The Haitian Revolution is an integral part of the history of the AME in the island and it is also crucial to note that Richard Allen was deeply involved in the logistics of this immigration, the most important one of the XIX Century in Dominican history.
In 1946, Marcus Witbooi, a descendant of anti-colonial Namibian national hero, Hendrik Witbooi, deserted the German Rhenish Mission and affiliated his congregation to the AME inspired by the historical liberation narratives and practices of this church. Later, AME members were instrumental in the liberation and independence of Namibia from South Africa.
The role of African Methodism in the Caribbean and the African continent will be approached from perspective of decolonial theory. This ratifies my intention of presenting South-South narratives of liberation in the voices of its own protagonist.
This reflection is extremely valuable since until today neither the AME in Haiti, the Dominican Republic or Namibia has a physical archive where church members and historians could consult their amazing legacies. The archival value of the raw footage of this film will motivate Africana and international experts on Protestant church histories, among others, to join forces with the AME Connectional Church in providing a safe place for these histories to be preserved in a dignified way.
The film starts narrating how the sound of the typewriter of my grandfather, George Augustus Lockward Stamers, impregnated my childhood and teenage years. Little did I know that from his incesant typing the first documented account of African Methodism in the island of Saint-Domingue was being written. The cover of his book, “El Protestantismo en Dominicana“ (1976, Editora Dominicana) is arguably the ugliest version of the legendary portrait of Rev. Richard Allen.
However, the beauty of its content surpasses any description. It has been a powerful influence in my work as scholar and arts curator.
After this first sequence, the film will offer an overview of the legal battle that the Rev. Richard Allen and the AME fought in the courts of Philadelphia for
a decade to achieve full independence from the oppression of the established white Methodists.
The definitions and historical entanglements of Black citizenship, a central theme that unites the narratives of the AME in Saint-Domingue and Namibia, will be one of the main foci. Another one will be the role of women in these histories. Equally, the social engagement of the AME in community education and health services will convey how the powerful legacy of Rev. Richard Allen is still alive accross time and space. To further illustrate the historical relevance of the AME, we will include archival images of prominent AME members, Rosa Parks and Fredrick Douglass.
Rather than provoking strong emotions, the camera will slowly uncover a universe of forking paths; routes departing from Africa and later returning with suitcases full with stories of self-determination and triumph. It is vital for the atmosphere of introspection that each interviewee is presented as a hero or heroine of a remarkable story by means of portraying them with radical close-ups. We will see a lot of skin and sound will have a prominent place, features that I admire in the work of Bergman and Tarkovsky.
This film is also inspired by works such as Jean-Marie Teno´s, Le Malentendu Colonial1where the first-person narrative threads the interviews and is juxtaposed with the sound-on-tape, especially, in this case, with the singing of the church members. A slow paced editing will reinforce the calm environment that the sound, as protagonist, recreates. ALLEN REPORT will combine these strategies with slow camera movements in sequence-shot offering the audience a sense of intimacy, shaping a state of introspective reflection. With this approach, ALLEN REPORT will allow the imagination and capacity of free-association of the audience to thrive.
Instead of presenting “the facts” in a direct, matter-of-fact way, a number of slow takes will approach the subject facilitating its understanding as self-explanatorily as possible. The frames will dissolve from one geographic location to another and the same will happen with the historical moments, which will be “portrayed” juxtaposing archival material and new footage. The notion of travel with the landscape serving as a unifying mechanism connecting different realities and narratives will serve asleitmotif. I will avoid the a priori sub-titling of the landscape. This strategy is similar to the one I used for curating the images of the exhibition “Pares & Nones. Contemporary Photography Haiti and Dominican Republic”2. In this exhibition the audience is often disconcerted about the actual location of the image: are we in Haiti or in the Dominican Republic? Given the importance of the visual memory bias that we share as two nation-states in the same island, this strategy questions “certainties” and opens the way for new insights.
One of the challenges that I am facing in this project is creating a credible atmosphere that may faithfully illustrate the interconnections between these different locations. Another predicament will be the translation of the four local languages of the interviewees: English, French, Creole and Spanish. The subtitles will enhance the oral histories of each territory in their original language, contributing to highlight the transnational nature of African Methodism and the cosmopolitanism of the subjects in question, versed as they are in imponderable sophisticated narratives.
The “element of surprise” will materialize through camera positions that will strive to find in the natural volume of the space a dignifying and unexpected angle that will transform even the most humble environment into an epic shot, as in the photographic work of Robert Stephenson (Haiti)3 Zwelethu Methetwa (South Africa)4
or David Goldblatt (South Africa). When we enter a church, for example, the camera perspective will give an epic tone to the frame as if we were entering a building designed by Luis Barragán (Mexico).
Unveiling the characteristic baroque Caribbean in search of sober, majestic volumetric planes, is an element that will contribute to counter the tendency of (self) exotization of our visual imaginaries.
The shooting in Namibia will provide a natural environment for this type of sober treatment of the image since the areas where we’ll shoot, as most of that country, are basically dessertic. With this location and its extraordinary narratives, the demystyfing character of ALLEN REPORT will be further accentuated. For example, certain pre-conceptions about Negritude and the African continent in particular will be challenged since part of the Namibian population, especially those who will be interviewed who are members of Nama clan, were already creolized and multilingual societies before the arrival of German colonizers, in 1884.
Interviews to Date
1. Lucia Witbooi. AME Namibia. Member of Parliament and widow of Pastor Marcus Witbooi, 5th generation Captain descendant of founder of the AME in Gibeon, Marcus Witbooi. March 19th, Berlin. (English).
2. Patrick Delatour. Restauration architect and expert on African-American presence in Haiti since Dessalines and Christoph. Abril 14th, Port-au Prince. (English).
3. Elvire Douglas. Expert on Disaster Management and AME leader.
Apri. 14Th, Port-au-Prince. (English).
4. Francois-Albert Murat. Pastor. AME Saint Paul.
April 14th, Port-au-Prince. (English).
5. Charles Poisset Roumain. Author and scholar specialized on the history of the Protestant church in Haiti. April 15th, Port-au-Prince. (French).
6. Pastor Joel Mehu. AME Supervisor.
April 16th, Tombe Gateau. (French and Creole).
7. Suzy Castor. Sociologist and Historian specialist on the Haitian Revolution and Black citizenship. April 17th, Port-au-Prince. (Spanish)
8. Rubén Silié Valdéz. Dominican Ambassador in Haiti and specialist on Haitian-Dominican bilateral relations. April 17th, Port-au-Prince. (Spanish)
9. Anilda Lockward de Brito. Architect and daughter and editor of my Grandfather´s work. April 25th, Santo Domingo (Spanish)
10. Martha (Leticia) Willlmore. Descendant of AME first settlers in Samaná and historiographer. (English). April 28th, Samaná. (English)
11. Judy Altagracia Justo Anderson. Descendant of AME first settlers in Samaná and historiographer. (Spanish). April 28th, Samaná. (Spanish)
12. Leoncio King. AME Samaná pastor and descendant of first settlers.
April 28th, Samaná. (Spanish).
Current Production Status
We have completed the initial research in Germany and Namibia (2011-2013), as well as in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (2013). The 15 min work-in-progress/trailer, funded by Amistad Films, was completed on July 2013. We have held five working sessions in Santo Domingo (2013) between the director and producers Mario Delatour, Linel Hernandez, as well as the editor and cinematographer Aura Canela and Oliver Mota. We have obtained written approval and support along with full access to church archives from the Presiding Prelates of the AME, Bishops Sarah Frances Davis and David R.Daniels Jr.
We have started the process of applying for funding from documentary film foundations, academic institutions and cultural funds.