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“One of the first things I realized was that this wasn’t only going to be a historical piece about D.C. and its relationship to the federal government but a celebration of the local community. That gets lost in the story for the rest of the country,” says Rebecca Kingsley of her documentary-in-progress The Last Colony, a look at the history of Washington’s voting-rights struggle.
Kingsley’s project began in November 1997, as she was winding down a job as a sound editor and image researcher with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim. A filmmaker who was moving out of the city and abandoning a project on Washington’s black churches contacted Kingsley to see if Guggenheim was interested in picking up the project.
“I told her that I doubted he would be but that I definitely was,” Kingsley says. “The next day, she showed up with six boxes of information.” Kingsley says she reviewed the footage and immediately thought, This is not a story about black churches.
“There were interviews with people like Walter Fauntroy, Marion Barry—and they were all talking about home rule,” says Kingsley, a Wisconsin native who has lived in D.C. since 1990. “At the same time, my consciousness about home rule was growing and I thought, The universe works in strange ways.”
Kingsley started working “in earnest” on The Last Colony in November 1999. “That’s when I started investing my own money,” she says. “I decided that if I was serious, that was a good way to get the ball rolling.”
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So far, Kingsley has conducted 35 recorded interviews and has talked to nearly 200 additional people for background. “I wanted to give voice to people who aren’t the usual suspects around the issue—otherwise, the message gets tired,” she says. “Not to say I didn’t interview people like [D.C. Congressional Delegate] Eleanor Holmes Norton—but I did so more because she’s a fourth-generation Washingtonian, apart from her work on the Hill.”
Kingsley’s target audiences are high school and college students. “I want to reach audiences outside of the District,” she says. “Where better to do that than the classroom? I want to get people talking and give them more info to go on rather than just ‘taxation without representation.’”
The film is broken down into eight half-hour episodes, designed to be shown in classes and leave time for discussion afterward. The National Council for the Social Studies has agreed to help with the marketing and distribution required to get the film into schools.
Kingsley is also considering a public-television broadcast and a traditional film release but says that the classroom environment is ideal: “I don’t want people watching in the isolation of their homes. It serves the story better when shown in a community setting,” she says.
There is a soundtrack in the works featuring local artists such as Chuck Brown and Fugazi, and actor-activist Danny Glover has agreed to narrate the film. Kingsley is shooting for a fall 2003 completion date—just in time for the 2003-2004 school year—and already has additional projects in mind. Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the Dogon people of Mali, and the plight of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo are all potential subjects: “I have the rest of
my life planned—that’s how long it will take me to do all
of those things.”
For now, however, the first-time director and producer is focused on telling the story of Washington’s home-rule battle. “I’m not a product of this place, but I’ve lived here long enough to care about the story,” she says. “I don’t have an agenda. I’m just the storyteller—the messenger.” —Sarah Godfrey