Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow

Wednesday – Friday, February 23-25, 3-8 p.m.
Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow
Harlem Stage Gatehouse, 150 Convent Avenue (W. 135th St @ Convent Ave)
Tickets: Free, reservations required: e-mail DDFRtv@gmail.com or call 212.281.6002.
Participants bring their family photos and other scannable documents for an historical appraisal and storytelling during an appointment with Thomas Allen Harris and his team. Participants’ photos and other documents will be digitized and made into a DVD, providing them with the opportunity to share their memories with generations of family to come.

Sunday, February 27, 3 p.m.
Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Grand Finale
Harlem Stage Gatehouse, 150 Convent Avenue (W. 135th St @ Convent Ave)
Tickets: $10 for adults, $5 for teens; call 212.281.9240, ext 19 or 20; online http://www.harlemstage.org/calendar/details/102-digital-diaspora-family-reunion
After three days of meeting with community members to view their family photos and hear their family histories and stories, Thomas Allen Harris and special guests will present the audience with a mosaic sampling of family photos and stories featuring Harlem’s Hidden History. Clips from Harris’ new film, “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” will be shown.

Documentary filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris is asking New Yorkers to pull out their family photos and bring them – and the stories behind them – to the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow, an interactive, multimedia project that premieres Feb 23-27 at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse. Through the DDFR Roadshow, Harris says he hopes to build a strong community around shared experiences and to show that old photos, whether stored in shoe boxes or in dusty photo albums in the attic, are historical records that have significant cultural value.

Combining the best features of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow and National Public Radio’s StoryCorps, the DDFR Roadshow is organized in two sections, representing a new form of story-telling. During the DDFR Roadshow Feb. 23-25, participants meet with Harris and his team during pre-scheduled half-hour appointments to review family photos and share family stories. Harris’ team will film the stories, scan the photographs, and provide each participant with a DVD of the images, preserving the photos for generations. Additionally, excerpts from selected interviews and images will be loaded onto the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion website (http://DDFR.tv), creating a rich, public archive where the real history of people of African descent is told in their own words and images of family, friends, and loved ones.

At the Grand Finale of DDFR Roadshow, on Sunday Feb. 27, a selection of images and family stories gathered during the week will be featured at Harlem Stage at 3 p.m., with guest appearances by local celebrities telling their own stories and sharing their own photos. Audience members will be invited to ask questions and comment.

Those outside of New York can still participate by uploading their photos and stories to http://DDFR.tv in the “Create A Story” section.

Harris began conducting versions of the DDFR Roadshow concept in 2009, setting up shop at festivals and conferences in Maryland, Massachusetts and Georgia. The group sessions, which drew between 60 and 150 people, created a community among audience members: A participant at the DDFR Roadshow in Atlanta presented a photo of his grandfather in a World War II military uniform with insignias that he didn’t recognize. An audience member told him the symbols meant his grandfather had been a member of an African-American brigade.

Harris, a Bronx native who has a film production office in Harlem, says he is thrilled to create the experience on a much larger scale in New York. “I’m honored to have the chance to bring the DDFR Roadshow to Harlem and to Harlem Stage. Because of this neighborhood’s past, we’ll get a glimpse of family histories of people not only from Harlem, but from Africa, the American South, and the Caribbean,” Harris says. “We’re showing New Yorkers that their personal family histories are important, we’re creating a community of people who can bring an enhanced sense of meaning to those stories, and we’re putting it all online for everyone to experience.”

Digital Diaspora Family Reunion complements Harris’ fourth feature-length documentary Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People. The film, which Harris created with photo historian and New York University Professor Deborah Willis, author of the ground-breaking book Reflections In Black: Black Photographers from 1840 to the Present, explores the role of photography in shaping African-American identity from the 19th Century to the present. An excerpt from the documentary, which is slated to have its broadcast premiere on PBS in 2012, will be shown at the event.

“The Digital Diaspora project demonstrates how family photographs become lenses through which we can better understand the rich and complex histories embedded within the African Diaspora,” Patricia Cruz, executive director of Harlem Stage, says. “I am so eager to see and hear the ways the stories emerging from the Harlem community complement – or perhaps even contradict – the public image that has been propagated for centuries.”

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