Student Filmmakers challenge racial status quo with new film

Taira Alabi, News Editor

For Rachel Bass, the faces seen in media everyday weren’t something to be taken lightly. They were images that conveyed powerful messages. Now, she is conveying her own messages by casting people of color in the 19th century British mystery she film is directing, “The Breath of Winslow Belle.”

Seeing her own reality in film was a major force in why Bass went into filmmaking. Bass, who is of African-American and Indo-Caribbean descent, explains that growing up she yearned to see faces that had similar skin tones to her in the lead roles in film. Bass was home-schooled by her mother to ensure she knew about her culture. Growing up a story like Snow White was referred to as Chestnut Brown and featured characters that had their faces colored brown. This upbringing with a strong emphasis on loving her ethnic identity, Bass said, heavily influenced her filmmaking desires.

“My whole vision, in regards to film, is to represent people of color in ways that they are not used to being represented,” Bass said.

Bass hopes that her film’s storyline strays from where viewers are used to seeing people of color. “The Breath of Winslow Belle,” tells the story of the victim of a murderer who possesses different individuals to haunt her murderer. The idea came from a friend of Bass’ short story.

“The setting is 19th century England, but it is mythical in the sense that I am putting people of color into the primary roles,” Bass said. “ You tell the story you want to see, and that is what I want to see.”

In a world film set in the Victorian England typically feature whites in the main roles, Bass explains that she wants to unsettle viewers with her film.

“I want people to feel uncomfortable [seeing people of color as lead roles in a film set in 19th century England] and question why they feel that way,” Bass said.

After graduating from Amherst College in 2013 as a black studies major, Bass tried her luck at applying to graduate school for film. When she wasn’t accepted, she decided to take a year off and attend COD to gain more film experience. In her spring semester, she started taking a class taught by Professor John Rangel that provided Bass with exactly what she was looking for. The class, Advanced Film and Video Production, required students to break into two groups and create a feature length film.

Professor Rangel explained when the idea was brought up to produce a film set in the 19th century, he along with the members of his were skeptical. A historical period film would require elaborate costumes, unique set designs and a tremendous amount of hard work and passion.

But Bass believed had the drive for hard work and the passion needed to create the feature film.

“In film, anything is possible,” Bass said.

With a director who had a clear vision, dedicated crew members and an experienced professor as a resource, the “Breath of Winslow Belle” seemed to have all the pieces needed to create an eye opening film. However, there was one pivotal piece to the puzzle that was missing.

“They weren’t sure how they were going to make it with very little money,” Rangel said.

With the help of Kickstarter, a website where creative projects can obtain funding from the general public, the group was able to raise $4,000 to make their movie a reality. The group also secured another $1,000 through a bake sale on a college campus.

As the production process was kickstarted through the Internet, the doors began to be knocked upon for the group. Bass and the other group members searched for locations to film, costumes, and a cast.

A local seamstress with costumes that fitted the film were found, location sites that had the correct setting were secured and actors and actresses in line with Bass’s vision were cast.

Bass, however, is quick to explain, that while doors were opening for her and her group members, the journey to get to the door was a long and treacherous one.

“It is exhilarating, but it is also extremely stressful,” Bass said.

Rita Schaffer, a producer on the film, said the experience of creating this film has taught her more about the filmmaking experience in the real world.

“This is really how it is,” Schaffer said.

Despite the tremendous amount of work that Bass, Schaffer and her other teams members have put in they both agree that the project has morphed into an experience that is larger than a grade in a class and an experience that is in their words, “worth it.”

“The Breath of Winslow Belle,” is currently 75 percent shot and will feature actors from DuPage and Cook counties, as well as two current College of DuPage students.

Bass said the film will be to be released to film festivals, online and in physical copies in July.

As she wraps up filming this month, Bass explained that she is excited by the future and grateful for her exposure to the film process she obtained at COD.

“I am definitely pursuing film with more confidence,” Bass said.

Bass will be attending Chapman University in the fall and is hoping to obtain an MFA in film production with a focus on directing.