On January 21, Katrina Browne‘s Traces of the Trade had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Afterwards, she was joined onstage by her relatives, descendants of the DeWolf family, who appeared in the film and are now participating in audience discussions about their family’s role in the slave trade. Browne’s cousin Tom DeWolf is the author of Inheriting the Trade, his personal story of the family’s journey. He answered a few questions about what it was like to attend the festival as the subject of a documentary that was being shown there.
Q: I’m curious about what it’s like to be at Sundance as the subject of a documentary that is premiering there.
Tom DeWolf: It is both exhilarating and a little daunting. All of us who are part of Traces of the Trade are committed to its mission and the outreach we’re doing with community groups, churches, schools, historical museums and the public at large. Seven out of the ten family members who went on the journey were able to make it to Sundance, along with several members of the film crew. Many of us join Katrina Browne, our cousin the filmmaker, at each screening to interact with the audiences after the film ends.
Q: Have you been recognized?
DeWolf: A few times. It is an odd sensation to have people recognize you because they’ve seen you in a film, but you’ve not met them before.
Q: What conversations are you having with audience members at the screenings?
DeWolf: The conversations last as long as the theatre management allows them to continue. Traces of the Trade, and my book, Inheriting the Trade, at their core, are invitations to a deeper conversation about race in the United States. People are engaged and ask probing and thoughtful questions. It feels to me that many people hunger for this conversation, but we’ve been trained from birth to avoid it. I think people feel liberated by it. Since I’m the author of Inheriting the Trade, my memoir of my experience of the making of the film and the transformation I’ve gone through as a result of this journey, people speak to me specifically about the book in addition to the film. The book is different from the film in that it is my perspective and the film is Katrina’s. The two media, film and print, are quite different. And I simply have more room in the book for detailed information, behind-the-scenes stories, history about New England, Ghana, and Cuba, and the issues that most impacted me as a white man. The answer to the most-asked question is yes, the book is available in bookstores and online. If they don’t already have it, your book store can certainly order it.
Q: I’m also wondering if you could tell us a little more about the Q&A you wrote about on your blog. What were some of the reactions/questions that audience members had? Were you surprised by anything they had to say?
DeWolf: After each screening, there is an opportunity for us to interact with the audience. Each such opportunity has shown me just how powerful Katrina’s film is in engaging people. I’ve attended screenings of several other films at Sundance, and have found that many of the questions relate to the filmmaking process, choices regarding casting, and so on. The questions posed to us centered largely around the message of the film: How has this journey changed you? What have been the reactions from your family members to the film? Why isn’t the true history of the United States taught in schools? What can I do in my community? When will the film show on POV? (Watch for the film this summer.) When will the film be available on DVD? (we don’t know the answer to this question yet, but you can stay in touch through our websites: www.tracesofthetrade.org and www.inheritingthetrade.com). People have also asked if we can visit their communities, colleges, churches, or local organizations — please contact us through our websites about this possibility.
The most surprising question to me was when an audience member asked Constance Perry, who is African American, if she knew about her husband’s family history (Dain Perry is white and one of the cousins who traveled on the filmed journey) before she married him. The answer is yes. She and Dain were friends when we made the journey in summer 2001. They were married in 2006 and travel as a team to show clips from the film when they meet with groups to discuss the legacy of slavery and its impact on the systemic nature of racism today in the United States.
This has been an amazing experience at Sundance. My book tour in support of Inheriting the Trade began back east a few weeks ago and will resume when the festival ends. I’m off to Denver and then will make my way down the west coast through February. We’ll keep my schedule updated on the book’s website. Many of us who made the journey will travel around the country to meet with groups as part of our outreach efforts with the film and book.