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Project Title



Estimated Running Time

45 minutes


Log Line

A deep dive into a multiracial Caribbean American family history exploring race, immigration, and imperialism.


Paradise is a personal documentary exploring the filmmaker’s race and national origin.

My grandmother, grandfather, and mother emigrated to the United States from the

American occupied Panama Canal Zone in 1968. Both of my grandparents are black

West Indians, whose ancestors were lured to Panama to build the canal in exchange for

American citizenship. That citizenship never materialized and workers like them were

granted Panamanian citizenship to live along the canal in communities that were

segregated by US special forces. My family eventually settled in Brooklyn, NY where my

mother met my white father and they started their family. Paradise is my attempt to

understand the complexities of my ethnic and racial identities as informed by history,

family interviews, and my own research. In order to do this, I have divided the film into

five distinct visual acts with each one exploring a single aspect of this journey.


Act I will incorporate footage from the 2018 World Cup. 2018 was the first time that the

Panamanian Men’s National Soccer Team qualified for the World Cup. This was a

profound emotional moment for me, which I found both strange and gratifying. In this

act, I will reflect on how this deep moment of emotional connection made me want to

make this film and talk to my family about our identity and our immigration story.


In Act II, I will lay out my methods and concerns for making this project. Since this

portion of the film is solitary and exists within my own mind, it will be animated.

Animation is, for me, a solitary and reflective practice where I get to experiment

emotionally and formally. In this animated space, I can speak frankly about my

experiences and my prior knowledge going into the project. I will also incorporate

elements of a 60 Minutes special on the Canal Zone I purchased on 16mm.


Act III is an interview with my maternal grandmother about Panama, her mother (my

great grandmother), and a food item that she taught me to make. This portion of the

film combines a Facetime interview conversation I had with my grandmother about

most Americans’ ignorance about Panama as a country with me making Panamanian

Beef Patties the way her mother taught me. In this conversation, my grandmother

explains our family’s position in Panamanian culture, as well as in American culture.


In Act IV, I will combine footage of my four brothers with audio of interviews I will

conduct with them about our racial identity. The footage of my brothers will largely

focus on our physical similarities and varying ethnic ambiguity. In the interviews I will

ask each of them how they explain our background to other people, the frustrating

responses we’ve received from the world, microaggressions from people, and what this

all means and feels like to them. At various points in our lives, each of us has expressed

some level of racial anxiety around being mixed, black, latino, half white, etc. I hope to

give each of them a space to express himself and give insight into what our heritage

means to them.


Act V will focus on our father’s whiteness and our relationship to it. This is, perhaps, the

most nebulous topic to approach both emotionally and factually. In this section, I will

interview members of both sides of our family, incorporate text and audio from people

talking about whiteness, and also talk more broadly to a range of people about

whiteness particularly as it pertains to multiracial people with a white parent.


Artistic Approach

While this project is a personal documentary at its core, I consider myself an

experimental media artist first and foremost. With that in mind, this film will be

grounded in the theoretical and aesthetic traditions of experimental work. This means

incorporating distressed and otherwise physically altered film, found footage, and

editing style that privileges emotional and aesthetic connections over spatial and

temporal continuity, and a more poetic rather than prosaic approach to storytelling.


This film will largely make use of the 16mm Bolex, though I will use the Aaton XTR for

some portions. For the post production process, I will hand process my footage and use

the optical printer to recapture and alter footage. Using film rather than digital

technology is a regular part of my practice which feels especially critical to this project.

Since so much of this project relies on memory and emotion, an added layer of organic

matter and artifact feels especially vital to my vision.

Topic Summary/Relevance

The Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies have awoken a number of

questions and fears in me and many of my fellow Latinx friends and family. I feel such

kinship to those detained migrants and the US-Mexico border. They seek the stability

and opportunity that my family was able to access. Their countries of origin were

similarly destabilized by the country from which they seek asylum.


As an American, I recognize that I would not exist without this country that commits

these atrocities in my name without my consent. I recognize that having a white father,

who was born in the United States affords me tremendous privilege, but I also recognize

that his whiteness does not transfer to me because of my mother’s blackness.


What do we really know about our families? About where we come from? About all the

complex pieces of those histories that shape our identities? How do those identities

shape our worldview?


My mother was born in a country I’ve never been that was colonized and impacted by

the only home I’ve ever known. When United States Special Forces established the

Canal Zone in Panama, they brought segregation with them. My mother was born in an

all-black town called Paraìso (Paradise).


My grandfather joined the US Army in order to become a US citizen. My mother was two

years old and the family eventually settled in Brooklyn, NY, where my mother met my

father, a white American of mostly Irish descent. The house she grew up in is the

address on my birth certificate. We didn’t live there long: by the time I was nine years

old, I had lived in New York, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina, as my parents sought

their place in the world for their growing family. Everywhere I went, I found myself

having to explain where I am from and where I’m really from.


I was first drawn to this subject when I took a Visual Ethnography course with Kathryn

Ramey at Emerson College. Kathryn’s ethnographic focus has largely been

concentrated on Latin America and American imperialism. It was through her

encouragement that I made a short project with my grandmother using a food item to

unpack our particular ethnic identity within Panamanian culture. That project, Fake

Patty , will be integrated into Paradise as a vignette.


Paradise is a deep dive into me answering the perplexed questions of those who find

my brothers and me racially and regionally ambiguous. I will interview my family,

historians, and others to explore these complicated ideas of race and identity. I will use

found materials, new footage, various voices, and animation to interrogate these issues

in a series of five non-linear vignettes tied together by the central themes.


As I revise this, the struggle for black liberation is a critical moment. Protests are taking

place across all fifty states, Europe, South America, and elsewhere. Here in the states,

these protests are being met with horrifying levels of police violence and repression. As

much as this film is an examination of Latinx racialization in America, it’s more critically

a black story. My mother’s own rejection of African American identity by virtue of her

immigrant story is not my own. I am a Black American even if my family is from another

country. My grandmother also identifies as a Black American. I see this film as a way to

heal this divide within myself.


Project Stage & Timeline

This project is well into its pre-production phase. I originally wanted this film to begin its

festival run in 2021, but COVID-19 has complicated my employment status and access

to vital equipment. I was able to use a one-year appointment to purchase supplies and

begin visual tests. At this stage, I have enough materials to continue collecting footage,

begin direct animation of found footage, and experimenting with potential post

production workflows given my limited access to 16mm post-production equipment. I’d

hoped to collect the interviews and footage of my siblings this summer, but that will not

be possible until I can be vaccinated for COVID-19. I plan to have Acts I, II, and III

completed by early 2021. By then, I should be better able to troubleshoot traveling,

distance interviews, and other necessary logistics to complete Acts IV and V.


Key Creative Personnel

Director: Gabby Sumney

Gabby Sumney is a media artist and educator based in Boston, Massachusetts. They

work in experimental nonfiction with a special emphasis on issues of identity and

personal narrative. Their work has screened at curated screenings and festivals

internationally including Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Indie Grits, and

Cellular Cinema.


Producer: Nerissa Williams Scott

Nerissa Williams Scott—CEO of TCGT Entertainment,LLC, Boston, Ma.,

( ) is a dedicated professor in the Film/Video Department at

Massachusetts College of Art and the Night Manager for the Emerson College

Paramount Center Film Sound Stage in Boston, MA. She is a graduate of Hampton

University where she received a Bachelor of Art degree in Fine and Performing Arts. She

has received her Master of Fine Art degree in Film Production (emphasis in Producing)

from Emerson College. Her career experience includes over thirty years of working and

learning in performing and media art.


Distribution and Marketing Strategy

I will submit this project to a number of documentary, experimental, and Latinx film

festivals. On this list are Ann Arbor Film Festival, Canal de Panama Film Festival,

Camden International Film Festival, and New York Immigration Film Festival, among

others. I am also working with my producer, Nerissa Williams Scott, to set up additional

screenings of this project in conjunction with other Afro-Latinx/Caribbean artists to

showcase work about identity.


Intended Audience

The United States of America is on track to become a majority minority country. Too

often, when I hear that projection spoken aloud, there is a level of fear or discomfort in

the speaker’s voice. American anxiety about race relations and inequality often means

that discussions of complex identity are avoided. As a child, I was often torn and

confused about who I am and what that means. With that in mind, my primary intended

audience is other multiracial Americans and the people who love us. I also want this

project to reach other Latinx people and artists of color in general.


Fundraising Strategy and Grant Impact

I am seeking a number of grants to fund this project. I was able to spend a grant for

Affiliated Faculty at Emerson College on film stock, research money for a now expired

artist residency for more film and supplies, and used my time in the artist residency to

explore alternative methods that I will employ in this film. With my one-year residency

behind me and current economy, this LEF grant in addition to freelance work will allow

me to buy enough of my time to work on this project.

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