Finishing Funds for WE HAVE JUST BEGUN


Dear Friends,

I write this update after several years of silent work on the Elaine film. Throughout the pandemic and a cross-country move, a core group of volunteers and I have continued to self-fund significant progress through archival discoveries, production trips, recording sessions and post-production. We worked with Michelle Duster, who recorded her great grandmother Ida B. Wells’ book The Arkansas Riot for the film. Acclaimed poet Tongo Eisen-Martin donated his role as co-writer and narrator, using the entirety of his residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts to log hundreds of hours of writing and performance for the film and upcoming podcast series. Tongo, whose father was born and spent his formative years in the Delta, also made a trip to Elaine, during which he gave a poetry reading — he has since been named Poet Laureate of San Francisco. Mudroom Films of Little Rock volunteered a daylong production trip to Elaine to cover the Elaine Memorial Tree desecration and theft when I was unable to make the trip to Arkansas. Red Echo Group continues to stand ready to donate their 501c3 status to the film, processing tax-free donations for those who want it and consulting on the production at no cost. We worked with Elaine Legacy Center President James White to document community-led efforts to feed, clothe, educate, and push forward the Elaine Museum — whose very conception we filmed during our fourth trip to Elaine in 2017.

As you may have seen on Arkansas television news , the title of the film is WE HAVE JUST BEGUN — the code phrase used by Black organizers in 1919 to identify members and allies of the union — but it was also clearly an affirmation of their revolutionary resolve; a commitment we share and long-ago vowed to encourage and support throughout the film’s production and distribution.

In 2017, we co-organized—with Skip Rutherford, Guy Lancaster, Brian Mitchell, Grif Stockley and Story Matkin-Rawn — a discussion of the Elaine Massacre while presenting a funding trailer at Ron Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock. In that discussion, I publicly supported reparations for not only the Elaine Massacre, but for the continuing domination, exploitation and oppression by wealthy landowners of that region. Community members in Elaine have told me that this event sparked a local reparations discussion. Five years later, and after seven years of total work, we will preview the film before the African American Reparations Commission during their trip to the Elaine Legacy Center on April 22, 2022.

While its heartening to speculate that some words at a public event may have catalyzed the movement of justice in some way, I was merely stating the obvious. The fact that significant resources, land and solidarity are due the Black and poor peoples of Phillips County is simply beyond dispute. The film will show why.

We've dedicated hundreds of nights and weekends over the past several years; producing continued filming trips, editing, adding sound design and art to the final mix. We've shown rough cuts to the Elaine community, fellow filmmakers, a former editor at LucasFilm, and an Academy Award-nominated editor to solicit feedback, prompting numerous revisions and additions.

We've done all of this without outside support since 2019.

But now we need funding to finish:
    ▪    $2000 — finishing sound designer/musician 
    ▪    $4000 — finishing editors
    ▪    $2000 — colorist/finishing graphics
    ▪    $2000 — campaign manager (post-production supervisor/outreach director)

Anyone making a donation of $100 or above will receive a signed, limited edition giclée print of the theatrical poster below:

NOTE: All of these rates are extremely low, even by small, independent film industry standards. Add to this the overtime necessary to complete the film by April 22 and they clearly won’t reflect the hours involved — but so far, the crew has generously agreed to subsistence rates for the cause, myself included. Any donations exceeding the target of $10,000 will be shared equally by the finishing crew.

Thank you for your solidarity and support. With some final  assistance, we’ll preview in April and premiere in September. From there, we’re confident that grassroots efforts — along with the distribution plans of Red Echo and Capstone Entertainment — will push the film into international discussion and assist in achieving the necessary justice for the descendants and contemporary residents of South Phillips County.

Michael W. Wilson
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Michael W. Wilson 
Little Rock, AR