The Journey


          
           I meet Riua Akinshegun’s art installation, The Most Mutinous Leapt Overboard, in early March,1994, at the top of a clanky industrial building in downtown Los Angeles.  It is between engagements, temporarily installed in her sparse and spacious loft.
        "Did you lose somebody in The Middle Passage, S. Pearl?"  Riua asks as casually as inquiring if I had eaten lunch.
        That question takes you off the freeway, away from "to do" lists and sets you down a couple of centuries back. Then Riua hands me a small wrapped doll -- a "healing doll" -- and invites me to  creatively connect the past and the present.  Even before completing all of the installation’s stations, I know that this is an experience and it should be on film.  What I don't know is that my visit to Riua's studio marks the beginning of a personal "middle passage," nor can I hear the ancestors singing a collective "Aha!" as they rub their hands together in mischievous glee. Only they know that completing The Healing Passage/ Voices From The Water will take the next ten-and-a-half years of my life.
At nine years, in a conversation about artists giving birth to creative projects which become their "children,"  a friend turned to me and said, "And if you don't finish this film soon, we're gonna have to do a C-section on you!" We laughed, but I went home and set a completion date one year away. 
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Filming began in April, 1994. Riua’s installation was mounted for one day at Los Angeles’ California African-American Museum, and opened to the public. The intention was to capture the emotional intensity expressed in previous exhibits, but the result was scattered, elusive.  I stepped back from the project, waiting for some clarity to show up.
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In ’95, just before his masterwork, The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo was published, precious artist and friend Tom Feelings participated in a UNESCO conference in Benin that initiated their three-year project on “The Slave Route.” Tom filled my mailbox with the conference research. He also sent me a Toni Morrison quote which I stuck on a bulletin board, glanced at for several years.  Gradually the film caught
up to the statement,  becoming the film's anchor, as Riua’s potent question expanded to include more artists.
The film, conspiring with life, took me to Gorée Island, Senegal, to sprinkle my godfather’s ashes.  In 2001 it took me to New York City just a week after the September 11th attack put the city on lockdown. A new acquaintance surprised me by arranging for funds to hire a film crew. In the midst of madness and mourning we filmed five key interviews and captured moments from the annual Maafa Commemoration as its participants embraced the city’s new healing challenge.  Literally tripping over a catalog of transformative workshops sent my crew up the California coast where both Ysaye Barnwell and Olatunji were teaching.  Near our hotel we discovered the waterfall.
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Didn't quite make it. Feelings had sent me his art work, but he died in 2003 before I could film an interview.  A television producer in South Carolina, Beryl Dakers, had done a perfect interview with Tom, but had the footage been erased?  I also needed to have balance in this dialog about healing from slavery.

Kate Johnson, the film's editor, and I completed the film just a few days before the June 7, 2004 world premiere.  But there was one more thing driving me crazy . . . We celebrated the film's completion again, dancing around the room, with still two days to breathe.  But driving home at 2:00 a.m. there was one more little thing in the film nudging me, one time consuming edit I had been avoiding but just couldn't live with.  . . .  I was begging for mercy!   Finally, just 22 hours before the premiere, I released that long breath.  The next part of this journey was about to begin.
For three years folks had been trying to connect me with filmmaker Katrina Browne, a descendant of prominent slave owners.  In early 2004 we met and filmed in Boston.  My original vision had expanded from one artist's work to include 12 artists, plus historians and healers.
8 Arabella Chavers-Julian, Assistant to the Producer, secures a release from an Exhibit participant at the California
   African-American Museum, Los Angeles 1994 (Calvin R. Hicks)

9 Women coordinators of the Maafa Commemoration gather before dawn at St. Paul Community Baptist Church in
   Brooklyn, NY, for the ceremony at the water. 2001 (S. Pearl Sharp)

10 Rosie Lee Hooks, Associate Producer, and Babatunde Olatunji, Big Sur, CA 2002 (S. Pearl Sharp)

11 S. Pearl and Haile Gerima, at the Los Angeles premiere of Gerima's film Adwa. 2003

12 Houston Conwill's terrazo cosmogram art installation, Rivers, (1988, with Estella Conwill Majozo and Joseph DePace)
     is in the floor of the Schomburg Center for Black Culture in Harlem, inspired by Langston Hughes' poem The Negro
     Speaks of Rivers. In 1991, with a public ceremony, Hughes' ashes were returned to Harlem and placed beneath the
     floor sculpture.

13 At the 2004 African Diaspora Film Festival women were asked to wear red, a reclaiming of the color psychologically
     lost as a residual of slavery. Schomburg Center for Black Culture, Harlem, New York. S. Pearl (l), Diarha Specht, co-
     founder of the ADFF, and artist Riua Akinshegun (r).

14 The Healing Passage/ Voices . . . receives the Blockbuster Audience Favorite Award at the 2005 Pan African Film
     Festival, presented by festival founder and director, Ayko Babu. (Ricky Richardson)

15 Prof. Lez Edmond (l), artist Riua Akinshegun, S. Pearl Sharp (r) following the Harlem Film Festival, New York City,    
    2005.

16 Filmmaker's family plants the healing dolls on Goreé Island, Senegal. Adriane Livingston (l), Janet Smith (r) 1998



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© 2011 A SharpShow
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PHOTO CAPTIONS

1 Director S. Pearl Sharp (l), camerawoman Regina Kimbell (c) and CAM Ass’t. Davie Carothers set a shot at
   the Pacific Ocean. 2004 (Calvin R. Hicks)

2 Riua Akinshegun and S. Pearl dialog, first day of filming, April, 2004. (Calvin R. Hicks)

3 Filmmaker S. Pearl Sharp filming on Goreé Island, Senegal. Papa Matar Ndoye, cinematographer (center), Oumar
   Ndoye, camera ass’t. (l) 1998

4 Family members Janet Smith (l) Adriane Livingston and filmmaker S. Pearl Sharp (r) prepare to sprinkle a relative’s
   ashes in the ocean at Goreé Island, Senegal. 1998

5 Beah Richards, who performs some of the voice-overs in the film, and Oscar Brown, Jr. 2000. (S. Pearl Sharp)

6 Cinematographer Dasal Banks (center) and sound mixer Jamal Banks, a father-son team, prepare to film Ysaye M.
   Barnwell, in Big Sur, CA 2002 (S.Pearl Sharp)

7 Cinematographer Johnny Simmons at work. 2000 (Roderick Sykes)
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S. Pearl Sharp