New Frontier film will engage audiences with transmedia project |

New Frontier film will engage audiences with transmedia project

Nan Chalat Noaker, The Park Record

Thomas Allen Harris will be doing double duty at the Sundance Film festival this year. In addition to screening his documentary "Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People," Harris will present a transmedia installation, "The Digital Diaspora Family Reunion," at Sundance’s New Frontier exhibit space on Swede Alley. It is the culmination, he says, of a 10-year project that has entailed collecting more than 15,000 photographs, not only of African Americans, but "across age, racial, ethnic and cultural divides."

In an interview earlier this week, as he was putting the final touches on his film, Harris explained that it was inspired by his friend Deborah Willis, who published a collection of photographs in 2003 entitled "Reflections in Black: Black Photographers from 1840-Present."

Harris said he was struck by the dichotomy between the way black Americans were portrayed in the mainstream media and the way they represented themselves in Willis’s book.

"What I did not know was this project would take me on a personal journey to understand why it was so important for black photographers, both professional and vernacular, to make photographs. Indeed, through this journey I was to learn that it was a form of activism and a strategy for survival in America," he said.

"Through A Lens Darkly" highlights a group of black photographers displaying powerful images from the past and present, and sharing the stories behind them. In all, Harris estimates more than 950 images are shown.

Many of the photos portray everyday families, including Harris’s own, others are artistic images of famous black musicians or dramatic moments in American history. The cumulative effect is a powerful portrait of a people who, for much of the country’s history, have been relegated to the shadows.

Recommended Stories For You

"Through a Lens Darkly" is Harris’s fourth feature film, all of which highlight family photography. After screening the films for audiences around the world, Harris said he often heard from people who wanted to share their own family images and stories. In response to that feedback he developed "The Digital Diaspora Family Reunion" (DDFR), which he likens to a hybrid of public television’s "Antiques Road Show" and public radio’s "StoryCorps."

The DDFR road show is at the heart of his installation at New Frontier. Members of the public are being encouraged to upload their own family photographs to Instagram with the tag #ddfrtv and display them at a live event on Monday.

According to Harris, the goal is to create a sense of connectivity and participation and is not limited to the African American community. "I want to encourage inclusiveness," he emphasized. There will also be a special event at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Day, at the New Frontier space in Park City. During the event participants can print out their photos and describe them to a live audience.

He said he is especially interested in ordinary family photographs, and the way they speak to America’s collective family portrait. "History is often made by the things our moms did, deciding where we would move, sending us to college, getting out to vote," he said.

"We hope that DDFR becomes like our universal refrigerator door, where we post images of the ordinary miracles that make life worth living," he said.

The New Frontier exhibit space on Swede Alley adjacent to the Gateway Building, will be open to the public from Friday, Jan. 17 to Friday, Jan. 24, from noon to 8 p.m. and on Saturday, Jan. 25, from noon to 3 p.m.

The Digital Diaspora Family Reunion live event is at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20. Attendees are encouraged to upload a family photo to Instagram at #ddfrtv and be prepared to tell a story about it.

‘Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People" will screen in the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier Category at the following locations and times:

  • Friday, Jan.17 at 9 p.m., Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City
  • Saturday, Jan. 18 at 12:45 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema 3, Salt Lake City
  • Sunday, Jan. 19 at 4:30 p.m., Redstone Cinema 7, Park City
  • Saturday, Jan. 25 at 5:30 p.m., Holiday Village Cinema 1, Park City