Wilton filmmaker premiers film on creation of quilts with George Floyd’s final words

  • Quilts made as part of the Sacred Ally Quilt Project display the final words of George Floyd. COURTESY PHOTO—ST. PAUL'S SCHOOL

  • Quilts made as part of the Sacred Ally Quilt Project display the final words of George Floyd. COURTESY PHOTO—MICHAEL SEAMANS

  • The Rev. Mark Koyama with a quilt featuring a depiction of the face of George Floyd. COURTESY PHOTO—

  • The quilts are blessed at Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge in 2020. COURTESY PHOTO—

  • Quilts made as part of the Sacred Ally Quilt Project display the final words of George Floyd. COURTESY PHOTO—MICHAEL SEAMANS

  • Quilts made as part of the Sacred Ally Quilt Project display the final words of George Floyd. COURTESY PHOTO—MICHAEL SEAMANS

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    Chris Owen and Jan Sutcliffe, producers of "Stitch, Breathe, Speak: The George Floyd Quilts" at the premiere of the film at the Positive Exposure Gallery in Harlem on Sunday COURTESY PHOTO—

  • Chris Owen films during the blessing of the quilts at the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge. COURTESY PHOTO—

Published: 5/25/2022 10:32:15 AM

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

A new documentary by Wilton filmmaker Chris Owen explores the process of several New Hampshire churches, including the United Church in Jaffrey, as they spent hours with the final words of George Floyd, creating a series of quilts displaying the words.

Floyd was killed during a confrontation with Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020. The video of police officers kneeling on Floyd’s neck and his pleas that he couldn’t breathe sparked protests for police reform across the United States. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in April 2021 and sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison.

In December 2021, Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of violating Floyd’s civil rights, and in February, fellow former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were convicted of civil rights violations. On May 18, Lane pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Kueng and Thao are scheduled to go to trial in June on charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The film, named "Stitch, Breathe, Speak: The George Floyd Quilts" premiered last Sunday at the Positive Exposure Gallery in Harlem. The film was screened in conjunction with the display of the 10 quilts made as part of the Sacred Ally Quilt Project. It explores the feelings of the quilters from nine churches in Jaffrey, Keene and Concord as they participated in the project, and follows the finished quilts to a blessing at the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge and then to an actual display.

“The blessing of the quilts is a key moment, because these quilts have been birthed, and here they are for the first time, and now they’re going out into the world,” Owen said.

The Rev. Mark Koyama, pastor at the United Church, initially conceived the idea a way for people in faith communities in New Hampshire to respond to Floyd's death. The idea grew from an email he received that contained the entirety of Floyd’s last words, as recorded in the video of his death, and having several parishioners approach him about what the church could do to help or contribute to the conversation. Koyama knew Owen, and his interest in filmmaking. He asked if Owen would be interested in documenting the process.

Owen formerly taught high school English in Wilton and Amherst for 10 years. His first film, "Atwood," was voted Best Short Documentary at the SNOB Film Festival in Concord in 2014. He studied international relations and philosophy of religion, and now co-hosts a podcast about religion in public life, "What In God's Name." 

Owen said he was immediately drawn to the concept.

“These people were spending extended time focused on these words. I was fascinated by that, the power of words and power of the creators spending extended periods with them,” he said.

Owen’s co-producer, Jan Sutcliffe, of Towson, Md., said that over the hours she spent editing the film, she got a piece of that same experience.

“Of course, as the editor, I was in the same boat as the quilters. I watched and listened to their powerful interviews and felt their emotions for hours at a time over the weeks and months it took to create the film,” Sutcliffe said.

Sutcliffe said she was interested in the project right away when Owen asked her if she’d like to collaborate and be an editor for the film.

“I’ve always had a strong interest in working in social justice work,” Sutcliffe said. “I can get very emotional when I’m working on things like this. It’s very moving footage, to see someone expressing the pain they’re feeling, just relating very deeply to these words.”

The film doesn’t rely on narration, Sutcliffe said, and the narrative naturally unfolded from the interviews of those who worked on the quilts. A deeper look into a small community revealed many of the same conversations about racial justice that were happening on a national level at the time.

“The narrative tension didn’t lie in the process of what they thought and what they did. The tension lies in the confrontation of a – mostly white, in New Hampshire – population facing the fact of ongoing racial violence, that’s going on all the time, that they didn’t really pay attention to, because they didn’t have to,” Sutcliffe said.

But Sutcliffe said for those parishioners of color in the congregations, those weren’t realities they could turn a blind eye to.

“It’s nonconfrontational, but it encourages an intense conversation about something we’ve long not talked about – and need to talk about,” Sutcliffe said. “It allows the start of a conversation about what it means to really engage with an understanding of what it means to be an ally.”

Owen said he hopes to eventually bring the film to showings in his home area, including churches, library, museums, continuing care communities and local theaters.


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