Student filmmakers tell a long-forgotten story

Students from SCAD Atlanta and other campuses collaborated on a documentary shot in and around Africatown, a Mobile, Alabama, settlement of survivors from the Clotilda slave ship.
Caption
Students from SCAD Atlanta and other campuses collaborated on a documentary shot in and around Africatown, a Mobile, Alabama, settlement of survivors from the Clotilda slave ship.

Credit: Courtesy

Credit: Courtesy

When the Alabama city of Mobile was looking for a way to tell a long-forgotten story about its past, it turned to SCADpro, the in-house innovation studio of the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta.

The studio connects clients who have interesting projects with students who are ready to take their skills to the next level, said Jennifer Hyde, a SCAD professor of film and television, and a former CNN documentarian. In the case of Mobile, the Convention and Visitors Bureau wanted to tell the story of Africatown, a section of the city founded largely by the survivors of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive in North America.

Recent SCAD grad Olivia Grillo and junior Kathryn Jamieson took on the jobs as co-producers and directors.

“Jennifer reached out to me and Kathryn and told us about the opportunity and the history,” said Grillo. “But we’d never heard of this amazing journey. We fell in love with the story and the community.”

In the early part of 2021, the two took the lead on researching and developing the documentary. The work included visits to Africatown, interviews with descendants and residents, and lots of digging through archival reports and photos. In April, the directors and a 10-student production crew spent 10 days in Mobile shooting around the city and recording oral histories.

“We wanted to bring in the actual place where it happened,” said Jamieson. “We spent time on a boat behind cameras, capturing the general areas around Mobile Bay, Twelvemile Island and the Spanish River.”

The crew also bonded with the community, said Grillo.

“They told us that many productions come in, take what they need and are never heard from again,” she said. “We were so honored to be let into their community and culture, and we took the time to document what we thought would soon be lost as more people move away and children grow up and leave.”

The project came together through the spring term, drawing in about 30 students, faculty and staff members across multiple SCAD campuses. The resulting 25-minute film, “Surviving Clotilda,” had its world premiere in Savannah a few wees ago.

“To do this in 21 weeks was amazing,” said Hyde. “We had students honing their skills in a craft many of them were new to while they were researching and producing. We were building the plane while we were flying. And they made it hit home with the emotion and energy the film brings.”

For Jamieson, learning a lesson of overlooked history was an eye-opener.

“I hadn’t put a lot of thought behind the idea of how many slave ships came to the U.S.,” she said. “The story captured my heart. I want to do what I can to amplify voices and stories that have, in many cases, been intentionally erased from the historical record. To say it was the honor and privilege of a lifetime is an understatement.”

Information about SCAD is online at scad.edu.


SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.