‘Forgetting to Remember’ with Sag Harbor Cinema and Plain Sight Project - 27 East

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‘Forgetting to Remember’ with Sag Harbor Cinema and Plain Sight Project

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Michael Butler

Michael Butler "The Growth of the Great Meadow."

authorStaff Writer on Jan 25, 2023

Sag Harbor Cinema and the Plain Sight Project will present a month-long program as part of its “Forgetting to Remember” project at Sag Harbor Cinema. This unique collaboration was made possible by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education and will include an exhibition featuring the work of renowned Sag Harbor artist Michael Butler, a “Projections” discussion about the research and work of the Plain Sight Project, and a documentary film premiere highlighting the life of David Hempstead Sr. on the East End, tracing him from slavery to freedom. The film was directed by local filmmakers Sam Hamilton and Julian Alvarez.

The Black History Month Celebration Exhibition at Sag Harbor Cinema’s Rosenberg Workspace — which is free to the public during cinema hours — is an integral part of the Congressionally Directed Community Project Funding grant, sponsored by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, awarded to the cinema and the Plain Sight Project in 2022. Since 2017, the Plain Sight Project has unearthed more than 750 identities of enslaved, indentured and free people of color on the East End from the 17th to 19th centuries. The collaborative endeavor between the Plain Sight Project and Sag Harbor Cinema, known as “Forgetting to Remember,” expands this work into the Sag Harbor area. Educational outreach is vital to the mission of the project, and local schools have been invited to the various Black History Month events at the cinema.

“I’m proud we secured $200,000 in federal funding for Sag Harbor Cinema and the Plain Sight Project to expand artistic and historical programming and reach new audiences,” said Senator Schumer in a statement. “This funding will be used to shine a much-needed light on the unknown history and contributions of people of color throughout the East End, an endeavor that is more important now than ever before.”

In Colonial North America and early republic United States, slavery was a part of life everywhere. This was true on Long Island and across the Northeast. Enslaved people of African heritage were a presence in the farms and homes of nearly every European family of means, and not just on the estates of the very wealthy. Starting with the East End of Long Island in the mid-17th century, the Plain Sight Project, which was founded in 2017, works to restore the stories of enslaved persons to their essential place in history.

“We are extremely honored and proud to have been awarded this grant from Sen. Schumer and for the opportunity to partner with the Sag Harbor Cinema on this project,” said Donnamarie Barnes and David Rattray, co-directors of the Plain Sight Project. “The exhibition and documentary film are another step for the work of the Plain Sight Project to present our research to the public and to enhance the knowledge we are acquiring about this important period in our community’s history, restoring the enslaved and free people of color who were the builders and founders of our towns and villages to their place in our remembered history.”

In addition to various historical documents that detail the lives of enslaved, indentured, and free people of color on the East End of Long Island, the month-long exhibition in the Cinema’s Rosenberg Workspace will also include an original artwork by seventh-generation Sag Harbor artist and historian Michael A. Butler. This commissioned piece will detail the legacy of David Hempstead Sr., a formerly enslaved man of color whose descendants were founding members of the Eastville Community in Sag Harbor. Local, emerging filmmakers Sam Hamilton and Julian Alvarez are also chronicling the story of Hempstead Sr. and the work of the Plain Sight Project in a documentary entitled “Forgotten Founders: David Hempstead, Senior.” The film will premiere on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at Sag Harbor Cinema.

“The Forgotten Founders documentary highlights the vital work of the Plain Sight Project and the ways in which Sag Harbor Cinema can support and amplify social justice initiatives in our local community,” said Bill Collage, a Sag Harbor Cinema board member and chair of its education committee. “Sam and Julian, the filmmakers, have a shared passion for visual storytelling and have created a film which honors, celebrates and preserves the incredible story of David Hempstead Sr.”

The Black History Month Celebration Exhibition will also feature state-of-the-art, interactive, digital mapping technology that allows one to trace the locations of enslaved, indentured, and free people of color in Sag Harbor and beyond. Sag Harbor Cinema and the Plain Sight Project partnered with the Vanderbilt Institute for Spatial Research to develop this geospatial initiative. The website forgettingtorememberproject.org, which will include the digital map and other various resources, will debut alongside the exhibition on February 25.

Sag Harbor Cinema is at 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor. For more information, visit sagharborcinema.org or plainsightproject.org.

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