Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Special Feature

Rep. John Conyers speaking at the panel “An MILK Day Discussion: The Legacy of the Slave Trade 200 Years After its Abolition.”


The screening of Katrina Browne’s Traces of the Trade on the Martin Luther King holiday at the Sundance Film Festival reached an audience that usually does not participate in the national debate on civil rights. Browne bravely examines her family’s history in a manner free of myth and false sentiment. I congratulate her for this honest examination of her Rhode Island family’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Revisionist films and studies of slavery and reconstruction, like Traces of the Trade, help modern society grapple with the continuing legacy of that period. The most enduring myth of American history is that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves and that the ensuing bloodshed cleansed the taint of slavery from this nation. We have ignored the North’s culpability, the injustices of Jim Crow and the lingering effects of slavery.

For over 19 years, I have introduced the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40) to further a national dialogue on the plight of African Americans in the context of slavery, Jim Crow, and other legally sanctioned forms of discrimination. H.R. 40 is a straightforward study bill; it does not mandate monetary or any other kind of reparations. It simply creates a commission to examine slavery and its modern day implications.

Slavery will continue to tarnish the American national story until we confront this part of our history, just as Ms. Browne does in Traces of the Trade. While a Commission will not erase the past, it can bring us closer to racial reconciliation and advancement as a 21st century multicultural society

about film here. That’s the beauty of Sundance – it’s for movie junkies.

Dublin, Ireland, the streets of Charlotte, N.C., the overflowing public shelters of Madrid, and the streets of St. Petersburg.

But that’s just half the narrative. In need of funds to complete the film, Koch turned to Washington Life magazine CEO Soroush Shehabi for help. What transpired next was the blueprint for how Washington’s philanthropic, political, and creative communities can come together for good.

Shehabi contacted his friend, AOL Vice Chairman emeritus and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who, having brought Nanking to Sundance in 2007 in his initial foray into producing, was convinced (literally over lunch and after viewing the trailer) to become the producer of the project

ESPN picked up worldwide TV rights during the festival (which might explain why Leonsis and executive producers Davies and Fernandez were spotted watching the AFC and NFC championship games in ESPN’s private tent at the festival). Indie distributor Liberation purchased North and Central American theatrical, DVD, and ancillary rights to the film, while Red Envelope secured domestic home video rights for Netflix, making this one of the only films to sell nearly all distribution rights at Sundance this year.

Kicking It is also the first “filmanthopy” project for Leonsis and his team of executive producers. Leonisis coined the term last year after producing Nanking based on the notion that films are vehicles for more than mere entertainment and profit – they are also opportunities to raise funds and awareness for an issue or cause.

But, as he is quick to point out, Leonsis is just part of the equation. In addition to Shehabi and Johnson, the executive producers of Kicking It are the leaders of Virginia’s high-techturned-venture-philanthropy movement. Once considered “new money” by infamously insular Washington society, this group of millionaires and billionaires is putting its money where its causes are. Executive producers Davies, Ein, Morris, Fernandez, Smith, and Ramsey all

belong to Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), a philanthropic investment organization that helps build high performing nonprofit institutions by concentrating money, management expertise, and personal contacts to improve the lives and boost the opportunities of children and youth of lowincome families in the National Capital Region (see WL’s May 2006 Issue for the full story). These aren’t the typical business stars, who jumped into the film business for the glamour, parties and hobnobbing (although those perks don’t hurt). This group combines altruism and film, and is playing a key role in branding the Washington filmmaking community as one that values substance over flash.

It’s Saturday night on the first weekend of Sundance, and Main Street is buzzing with filmmakers and film lovers, journalists, industry heavyweights, buyers, distributors, publicists, writers, celebrities, and the people who just came to watch it all come together like a fastpaced Michael Bay action sequence. To put it in Pollywood terms, this small Utah town with a population nearing 8,000 transforms each year from a sleepy mid-term


8731 Total films submitted in 2008
207 Films screened
1603 International films feature films
47 International films feature films
1573 Documentary features submitted
35 Documentary features selected


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