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Preview 'American Ubuntu' (FBI Agent, His Estranged Daughter & Her Black Panther Stepfather Clash Post-9/11)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 7, 2013 at 4:44PM

From Oakland-based filmmaker Lenore Norrgard comes the feature-length film, American Ubuntu (Ubuntu meaning "Because we are, I am" in Zulu; or I'm sure you're familiar with the old sayin, it takes a village...).
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American Ubuntu

From Oakland-based filmmaker Lenore Norrgard comes the feature-length film, American Ubuntu (Ubuntu meaning "Because we are, I am" in Zulu; or I'm sure you're familiar with the old sayin, it takes a village...).

The short version of the film's story goes... the lives of an FBI agent, his estranged daughter, and her Black Panther stepfather collide as they respond to the tragedies of September 11.

The much longer version of the story, from how the filmmaker came up with it, to her lengthy journey in trying to perfect it and eventually launch production, follows below, in the filmmaker's own words...

On September 11, 2001 I was driving through the foothills of Mount Shasta in northern California. Passing through the sacred landscape, accompanied only by the sabre-rattling AM radio, was surreal. Relieved that the bridges into San Francisco had survived the day intact, I got home and curled up on a futon for the next few days, asking myself, How do I respond to this -- as a film maker, as a citizen, and as a healer? As I ruminated on this question, the characters of AMERICAN UBUNTU -- with their longing for love, clashing worldviews, and impossible situations -- first glimmered in my mind's eye. By 2004 the characters were talking to me: An FBI agent discovers that the long lost love of his life is dead -- and that she left him a grown daughter. This daughter, who doesn't know who her birth father is, is raised by her Black Panther stepfather and other social visionaries in the community of Ubuntu. The Ubuntu shaman, who is training the daughter to become the next spiritual leader of the community, is dying. They all started talking to me. And I began writing. An early draft of the screenplay won an Oregon Literary Fellowship in 2005. However, I wanted the script to hit the ball completely out of the park, so I contracted Tom Schlesinger [NOWHERE IN AFRICA] to evaluate it and coach me on rewrites. After a few years laboring over more drafts -- with only a few sentences from the first one surviving -- several critics agreed: You’ve nailed it! I always believed... ...that this healing story would reach the screen because a groundswell of people would see its time has come, and would gather the resources necessary to make and distribute the film. I never saw AMERICAN UBUNTU as a Hollywood production -- nor one made on a shoestring budget. No. I always saw it solidly supported as a substantial, independent film that diverse audiences would herald as a life-changing work of art. So, my producing approach has been a very personal one: I take my script in hand to individuals I believe will be inspired by the story. I ask them to help me reach the people with the influence, funds and connections to bring it to the screen. And now, momentum is building! In the past year, a kind of virtual Ubuntu Village has sprung up, as people have begun to join in support of the project. Magnificent manifestations include the AMERICAN UBUNTU poster contributed by outstanding artist Susan Scott, and two full table reads of the script. Heather Rae, an award-winning independent producer I greatly admire, requested the script. We had an excellent first meeting in LA this summer, and I know that the integrity of her person matches the very high quality of her films.

And so on, and so forth. You get the picture, I hope... 

After that long journey, the filmmaker recently raised over $30,000 via Kickstarter to professionally package the project to shop around to financiers. So, no, the film hasn't been made yet; but the fact that she was able to convince contributors to invest the initial $30,000 just to package the project says that there's definitely some interest in seeing that it's completed. 

But the journey is far from over; however, things are definitely off to a promising, auspicious start.

I'm intrigued enough by the project's story, as well as the director Norrgard's dedication to seeing it this far, 11+ years after the idea first came to her. So we'll be tracking it from here on, to see where it goes.

She states that she approached Esperanza Spalding to star in the film, and got a copy of the script in her hands. However, she still has to agree to do it.

As the video below states, she's also going after Michael K. Williams and Jeremy Renner.


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