The internet has put the means of production tantalizingly within reach, anyone with a smartphone can record and upload their material to YouTube. But is anybody listening? Sometimes the answer is yes.
Presenting Princess Shaw, a documentary by Ido Haar, is a contemporary fairy tale that follows two protagonists on their separate paths, miles and worlds apart and yet connected, as we are all somehow connected these days, through the internet. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to stand up and cheer, or give someone a hug.
Samantha Montgomery works at an elder-care facility in New Orleans, and the camera follows her daily routine as she makes beds, chats with residents, and entertains them with a warm, melodious Over The Rainbow. She’s one of the many Americans who work hard, but are very far from living the dream. When her car breaks down, she can’t afford to get it fixed. Yet she can take the raw material of everyday pain, longing and disappointment, and turn it into beautiful, bluesy a cappella songs which she uploads onto her YouTube channel as Princess Shaw. The channel is part platform for her songs, part personal diary, and one cannot help but be struck by the honesty and courage of a woman who has built an independent, creative, life on the shaky foundations of a childhood marked by abuse.
In the meantime, far away on Zeelim, a kibbutz in the south of Israel, Ophir Kutiel – known to the music world as Kutiman, is leading a quiet life: sweeping the porch, tending his vine, eating cereal on the couch, and watching lots and lots of YouTube. What Kutiman does with YouTube is fantastic: he takes clips from videos, edits, loops, and mixes them to create some really amazing works of orchestration. His sources are homemade videos by amateurs, and while he does not contact them or ask permission to use their material, he does thank them and link back to their videos. His YouTube channel is non-commercial and he does not profit directly from these videos. As one sees him work on the mix that will become the video Give It Up, featuring Princess Shaw, one can feel his connection to the music. He is, in some sense, the ideal listener.
The film reflects the way in which technology has changed the way we live, opening up new opportunities and new modes of creating, as well as raising some pertinent questions. There are issues that previous generations never had to consider, such as one’s online presence – what to share, where, and how much control do we really have? We are forced to review our definitions of things that once seemed obvious, such as the concepts of ownership and privacy. At one point, Kutiman shows singer-songwriter Karolina the video he is making of Give It Up, with Princess Shaw singing. She immediately asks him: “Does she know? Did you contact her?” Upon being answered in the negative, she says, “I would faint if someone did that to me.”
Presenting Princess Shaw also makes us aware of the extent to which some things have not changed at all. Despite the apparent opportunities offered by the internet, open competition reality shows and YouTube, it remains glaringly obvious that in order to ‘make it’ one stills needs the usual conventional criteria – adhering to standards of beauty and class that typically favor the young and white.
Princess Shaw stays true to her dream, even when she feels like giving up. She never stops writing, singing, recording her thoughts and feelings. Her open approach to life, the joy and generosity of spirit she brings to every encounter is uplifting and inspirational. Her talent is undeniable, and happily, it seems that as a result of this connection, good things are happening. One of her most recent blog posts shows her in the recording studio with Kutiman where they are working on an album of her songs, and she says: “My spirit is jumping out of my body right now I see the microphone and all I want to do is get out there and sing.”
Presenting Princess Shaw
Directed and edited by Ido Haar; Cinematography: Ido Haar; Sound: Yoni Mery, Nir Alon, Yoni Levy; Sound Designer, Rotem Dror; Artistic Advisor: Joelle Alexis; Line producer: Shelly Ben Shachar; Produced by Liran Atzmor; Co-producer, Stephen Apkon; Executive producers, Esther Van Messel, Gitte Hansen.
Princess Shaw artist facebook page