Philadelphia filmmakers Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater have been following the city’s poet laureate, and Germantown luminary, Sonia Sanchez around for the last few years.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday, with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, that they knew they would have the money to complete “BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez,” a made-for-TV film about the revolutionary writer’s life and work.
Grants from the Sundance Documentary Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other supporters, allowed Attie and Goldwater, of the Bala Cynwyd-based Attie & Goldwater Productions, to join producer and editor Sabrina Schmidt Gordon in launching the film.
“During the last couple years, a lot of funding sources have just tightened up,” Goldwater told NewsWorks as the film’s crowd-funding campaign inched past its $55,000 goal with just a day to spare. “We had sort of come to the end of our list of grant proposals that we could write.”
The Kickstarter funds will cover the costs that stood in the way of the film’s completion, including final editing and licensing rights to music and archival footage.
Goldwater, an award-winning filmmaker with more than 25 years of experience, called the crowd-funding route “a big learning curve,” and an increasingly popular way for independent filmmakers to complete their projects.
Goldwater said it was a natural choice because of Sanchez’s many fans.
“In the best possible sense, she’s a populist poet,” Goldwater said, “so it was an opportunity to let that [members of that] fan base express themselves by being part of the film.”
Eight decades of changing the world
A native of Alabama who later settled in Harlem and then Germantown, Sanchez became a crucial voice in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, writing, speaking, teaching and performing for civil rights, women’s liberation and peace.
As an activist, she helped to pioneer the inclusion of African American studies in college classrooms and, as Goldwater puts it, “has been part of every subsequent progressive movement since.”
Now 79, Sanchez has yet to slow her pace; she’s out on the road an estimated 40 weeks of the year.
“She does that because her commitment to being an elder spokesperson in the community is so great,” said Goldwater. “She’s there for any high-school teacher who wants her to talk to their class.”
The film itself
Goldwater drew the title of the film from Sanchez’s second book of poetry: We a BaddDDD People.
“We want to show where she came from, and then also what she has engendered,” Goldwater said.
She and her partners are far from the first people to attempt a Sanchez biopic, but in a tough climate for independent filmmakers, they’re one of the only ones to come through on their goal of bringing her life to TV.
“When we asked her if she wanted to collaborate with us on this, she said yes immediately,” Goldwater said of first approaching the famous poet. “And then about a year later, when we were still working on it, [Sanchez] said, ‘I said yes, but I’ve said yes to a lot of people and a lot of people just never finished their film.'”
The film includes reflections and readings of the poet’s work from artists like Questlove, Ursula Rucker, Ruby Dee and many others. Composer Evan Solot, who created an original jazz opera based on one of Sanchez’s books and first introduced the filmmakers to her, is providing the score.
Attie and Goldwater have already been in talks with PBS and HBO about broadcasting the film once it’s finished, and hope to bring it to festivals as well.
“I liked her work from the minute I first read it, [and] and the first time I heard her perform it,” Goldwater said.
Her “admiration for [Sanchez] as a person” has grown the most during the filmmaking process.
“She loves to pass on her enthusiasm for social-justice issues and for people expressing themselves through spoken word,” Goldwater said. “That’s really been amazing to watch.”
“BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez” supporters can continue to donate to the Kickstarter campaign through the end Wednesday.