City Paper is not for tourists
Rebecca Kingsley’s documentary, The Last Colony, chronicles D.C.’s modern home-rule and voting-rights movement from its birth in the civil-rights era to the present day. Much like enfranchisement, however, Kingsley’s film isn’t something D.C. residents are likely to see any time soon.
After seven years in production, the self-financed doc is stuck in limbo: Kingsley needs $100,000 for post-production expenses and to purchase the use of copyrighted archival footage before she can finish her longtime labor of love. Kingsley began working on the documentary sporadically in 1999; in 2003, it became a full-time affair. “I knew from the beginning that if I wanted people to take me seriously with this that there had to be a certain level of production value,” Kingsley says. “I went through my savings, cashed in my 401(k), and [applied for] several credit cards.”
“She didn’t go out there with her little Handycam and shoot it herself,” says Erica Ginsberg, co-director of Docs in Progress—a bimonthly workshop for documentary filmmakers—where a rough cut of The Last Colony screened in May. “When she’s finished with this film, it will be very powerful in getting people outside of the Beltway to understand that the capital of our country doesn’t really provide democracy to its own citizens.”
If she finishes. Earlier this year, a cash-strapped Kingsley submitted a proposal for part of a $1 million grant offered by the Office of the Mayor, geared toward educating the nation about voting rights in the District. Kingsley had hoped the money would give her film a much-needed financial boost. Two months before the Docs in Progress screening, she found out she wouldn’t receive a dime.
“I just really believed it would be sort of a no-brainer,” Kingsley says. “One percent, just $10,000, would have shown some support from the city. I mean, that was just really devastating not to get one penny from them at all.” Instead, the grant was split three ways between D.C. Vote, the League of Women Voters, and Our Nation’s Capital. D.C. Democratic State Party Chair Wanda Lockridge, one of a dozen volunteers who reviewed the grant applications, says Kingsley’s proposal leaned more toward advocacy while Our Nation’s Capital didn’t focus on voting rights at all. “We had to score according to what the instruction was,” Lockridge says of the strict guidelines set by the Mayor’s Office. “And that was to stay away from the [proposals] that talked about promoting voting rights.” Though Lockridge ranked Kingsley’s proposal higher, the Office of the Mayor had final say.
After years of dedication to her film—during which she’s raised close to $120,000, interviewed nearly 200 subjects, and devoted countless hours to research—Kingsley can’t help but feel like she’s let her cause down. “I have this constant feeling of disappointment,” she says, looking at a timeline of D.C.’s struggle for democracy scrawled on a Post-It note. “I feel like I’m constantly disappointing people.”
With a new administration, however, comes a new hope. In early November, members of Free D.C.! and D.C. Vote presented a pre-transition plan at Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty’s request. One of their stated recommendations was to fund Kingsley’s film.
“[That] would be like a B-12 shot, let me tell you,” Kingsley says. “It would be like, ‘Holy shit, I can finish this thing.’”—Frank Hamilton