Getting To The Root Of The Story With Christopher Everett, Director & Producer of Wilmington on
Photo Credit: Chris Robinson / CR Visions
Blacks were affluent and no longer captive by the words “slavery or slave owner”—they were free to roam as they pleased with a premise of confidence and belonging.
They possessed properties that stretched for miles— African Americans were a dignified bunch who owned respectable businesses, and they held high-ranking positions… things were changing for the masses.
Colored people, brown people, finally earned respect, and not just for the melanin of their skin, but they were valued as people of integrity and character—so they thought.
Starting on November 10, 1898, in a small town called Wilmington (NC), hundreds of blacks died. They were slaughtered during one of the most horrific, genocidal race riots in American history.
Although text and film point to the Rosewood bloodbath in 1923 as being the largest mass execution of blacks. That simply isn’t true, which is one of the reasons that local Director, Actor, Writer, and Producer, Christopher Everett along with well-known Executive Producer, Pete Chatmon (http://www.petechatmon.com/), recreated the story, implementing the timeline of destruction, which lasted several days.
The carefully detailed story outlines the planning stages, court affidavit, and key players from the Democratic representatives that all took part in the lynching and killing of innocent people.
The 34-year-old Laurinburg (NC) native said that it took him several years to compile all the information for the movie, and with research, filming crew and an intangible amount of content, Everett was able to invent the stifling documentary, “Wilmington on Fire.”
The production was featured at the 2015 Cucalorus Film Festival, 2016 NC Black Film Festival, breaking attendance records at each showing.
Wilmington on Fire won "Best Documentary" at the 2016 Film Spark: Film Festival, and it won for Best Documentary at the 2016 NC Black Film Festival as well.
The shocking documentary was featured in the September 16, issue of The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/19/a-buried-coup-detat-in-the-united-states
Photo Credit: Rondell Lane / Media Lane Photo & Video
What school did you attend and what was your major?
I attended King's College in Charlotte, NC from 2001 through 2002. I studied and received a degree in Graphic Design.
When did you decide to work in film?
I got in film years ago as an actor and model, back when I was one-hundred pounds lighter, (lol), but once I got out of doing acting, I found myself wanting to create and develop my own projects and tell my own stories. I would intern and work for free, to get experience.
What made Wilmington On Fire so intriguing opposed to other features?
The story of the 1898 caught my eye after reading about it online back in 2009. As a lover of Black history, I was very intrigued by it, and I was surprised that no one did a film on it so I decided to take the lead and make a film on the 1898 Wilmington Massacre and created "Wilmington on Fire".
You mentioned previously that you were a [clothing] model, when did you step away from that to peruse film full-time?
I stepped away from modeling and acting (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1116808/) around 2008 while living in Atlanta, GA. The weight gains plus lack of interest of being a model & actor kinda made me fall back from it.
How many years did it take to research, formulate a crew, and write the documentary for Wilmington on Fire?
It took from 2010 to 2011 to research and create an outline, plus getting everyone who I wanted to have in the film (interviews) together. Then, I started shooting everything from 2012 to 2013. It took an additional 2 years (2013 to 2015) to finish post-production, and finally premiere the film in November 2015 at the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, NC. So it took a long hard 5 years to complete the film.
In the film, family members spoke on behalf of their deceased relatives affected by the mass murder-- how were you able to find them?
I found two direct descendants, Dr. Lewin Manly (grandson of Alexander Manly) and Faye Chaplin (great-granddaughter of Thomas C. Miller). I got them to be in the film because of Larry Reni Thomas who is also in the film.
His organization, ICROW (International Organization for Compensation and Reparations for the Victims of the Wilmington Massacre of 1898) seeks out and finds direct descendants of the massacre.
Is it scripted? Are the responses authentic?
The documentary isn't scripted at all. None of what you see is scripted. All of it is authentic through the telling of family histories and research.
What was your budget? You mentioned that you acquired funding from another source?
I really didn't have a shooting budget… I used my own money and resources, to get everything shot. I did a couple of crowdfunding campaigns that raised some dollars, but I still used majority of my own money to get the film together. Then, I had a huge blessing happen.
I got the rest of the funds to finish post-production from an NBA player, David West. He was a huge supporter of the project and has a high interest in Black history and wanted this story to be told, and get out to the masses.
Did you Direct and Produce the entire film?
I directed and produced the entire film. I had a mentor throughout the whole process though, who was my Executive Producer, Pete Chatmon. Pete taught me a lot about making a project. He's done some great films. He wrote, directed and produced "Premium" in 2007 which starred Zoe Saldana, Dorian Missick and Hill Harper.
Expound on the reason you don't want to be labeled a Director?
You can label me as a Director and Producer, but I just don't like calling myself that just yet because I've only made one full-length film, and so far, I still have a lot to learn about this film game in general. I'm hard on myself in that way so I can always stay hungry and continue to want to be the best by really making a name for myself in this industry.
The soundtrack is more profound than most, and you used hip-hop, spoken word, and jazz/blues... how important is it, for a soundtrack to intertwine seamlessly with the film.
Having a great soundtrack is very important for any film. Many indie filmmakers don't realize that, but I've always wanted to make my film projects, have a dope soundtrack to go along with it.
I want to take it back to the era where even if the film wasn't good, you knew the soundtrack was going to be fire. But music helps shape and carry the film. Music is very important. (Promo Soundtrack (features several Charlotte, NC artists such as Bluz, Shotgun Grizzly, James Diallo, etc... and music producer Sean Washington, Charles Heron and Vinny Knuckles worked on production for soundtrack).
Who did the artwork?
Wolly McNair did the artwork. He resides in Charlotte, NC. Marcus Kiser did all of the posters, DVD and promo design/materials. He resides in Charlotte, NC as well.
What more can we expect from you?
Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire (Image designed by Katherine Oh).
Well, I'm going to go into the new year of 2017 continuing the push of "Wilmington on Fire" and I recently acquired the rights to Dennis Leroy Kangalee's "Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire". Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire is an experimental horror film about a 150-year-old black vampire struggling with the enduring legacy of colonization, sexism and racism. This will be a new kind of horror film and also a powerful role for an African-American woman.
Do you have words of encouragement?
Yeah, I forgot to add that you don't have to be in a big city like Las Angeles or New York to make it in film, and make those Hollywood connections. I've done it living in Laurinburg, NC (small country town) because of the internet.
To me, making it , is accomplishing the goal of making a film, web-series and any visual medium that you are trying to do. It's not about the money. The money will come. It's about being able to make a great film project.
That's making it in the film industry from my perspective.
Whelp, there you have it!
If you'd like to learn more about the whimsical Director, please visit sites listed below:
Preorder film or watch purchase from vimeo on demand:
Kenan Auditorium (Wilmington, NC) (shot by Jerome Mack): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1038680056196946.1073741829.203395273058766&type=1&l=91e2fbbf50
Paramount Theater (Goldsboro, NC) (shot by Tim Pounds): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1038695262862092.1073741831.203395273058766&type=1&l=075eba8e2c
Hayti Heritage Center (Durham, NC) (shot by William Paul Thomas): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1044198765645075.1073741832.203395273058766&type=1&l=28f6428ca3
PBS Black Issues Forum http://www.pbs.org/video/2365785856/