Friday, June 27, 2008

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North

More than a decade ago, first-time filmmaker Katrina Browne made a troubling discovery — her New England ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. In her film, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, she and nine fellow descendants of the DeWolf family set off to retrace the trade triangle: from their ancestors' old homestead in Bristol, Rhode Island, to slave forts in Ghana, to sugar plantation ruins in Cuba.

Ten years from inception to debut, the film is part of the PBS series P.O.V., and airs on Rhode Island PBS on Thursday, July 3 at 9 PM (we're on channel 36 / digital 36.1 / RI cable 8 / DirecTV 36 / Dish Network 7776); night-owl Cox and Comcast cable subscribers can catch a rebroadcast on July 5 at 1:30 AM.

As the film recounts, the DeWolf name has been honored through generations, both in the Bristol and on the national stage. Family members have been prominent citizens: professors, writers, legislators, philanthropists, Episcopal priests and bishops. If the DeWolfs' slave trading was mentioned at all, it was in an offhand way, with reference to scoundrels and rapscallions.

Then Browne's grandmother opened the door a crack. She wrote a DeWolf history booklet with a brief but pointed reference to the slave trade, which caused Browne to look deeper. What Browne learned in her research, coupled with the journey she undertook with other DeWolf descendants to retrace early New England's infamous trade in rum, slaves and sugar, revealed secrets hidden in plain sight. Archival documents — from logs and diaries to detailed business correspondence, canceled checks and sales records detailing a global economy — unsettle not just a family, but also a nation's assumptions about its not-so-distant history.

Technically, this film is a well-structured, nicely photographed, and finely edited cinema verité documentary. Browne is looking for the truth about her family, and she goes about trying to keep her filming of it candid and truthful.

When the film presents historical evidence and explores the poignant and pointed personal struggles family members undergo when facing these facts, the film is fascinating and compelling. The filmmaker, however, tries to cast a wider philosophical net. Whether the conclusions reached in this personal family story can be successfully applied to a broad audience will be a controversy best left to the viewers to debate. Either way, it's a thoughtful and provocative look at an aspect of Rhode Island history not widely known.

Watch the film, (then the second short documentary that follows it) and then talk about them here.

What do you think about Traces of the Trade?
Did you know that quiet beautiful Bristol was such an important hub of the slave trade? (By the way, if you really had no idea, then you obviously haven't experienced the comprehensive multi-media series by Paul Davis in The Providence Journal. Check it out!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


On Saturday, May 10th, at the University of Rhode Island's Independence Hall (good location for this event in my opinion), Operation Clean Government (OCG) held its second annual corruption forum, focusing this year on the legacy of corruption at the Rhode Island General Assembly.

OCG assembled an extraordinary panel of experienced government watchdogs, critics, and reporters (list below) for the 90-minute forum. Edited for television, the one-hour program will air on WSBE Rhode Island PBS on Thursday, June 19 at 10 PM. Cox and Comcast subscribers can watch a re-broadcast on Saturday, June 21 at 2:30 AM.

Former Providence news anchor and political commentator Dave Layman moderates the discussion, targeting each panelist with tough, provocative questions focusing on legislative corruption, its history, the massing of power, how bad the problem is and, most importantly, what needs to be done about it. The audience also poses questions directly to the panelists.

Although at times the camera placement leaves something to be desired, the content is as real as it gets - putting you right in one of those lecture hall seats. Candid opinions, keen insights, astonishing facts, and useful information mark the program as "must watch."

In alphabetical order, panelists are:

Edward Achorn - The Providence Journal deputy editorial editor

Arthur "Chuck" Barton - President of Operation Clean Government

Ross Cheit - Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University and Rhode Island Ethics Commissioner

John DePetro - NewsTalk 630 WPRO-AM talk show host

Kenneth Payne - Former senior policy advisor to the Rhode Island State Senate and former director of the League of Cities and Towns

Bill Rappleye - NBC10 News legislative and political reporter

Arlene Violet - Veteran radio talk show host, political columnist, TV commentator, and former R.I. Attorney General

We welcome your views about the program, and what's discussed.


Today, we're pleased to present a guest writer - our summer intern Sarah, who studies at Valley Forge Christian College in Pennsylvania. Sarah viewed the film, HIDDEN IN THE LEAVES, and these are her impressions...

Lyme disease in recent years has begun to affect a majority of people rather than a minority, especially in the New England area. The short film, Hidden in the Leaves, courtesy of the University of Rhode Island, is a helpful in depth research about Lyme disease.

Dr. Thomas Mather, a professor of entomology at the University of Rhode Island, has been doing research since 1993 in reported places where people have developed Lyme disease. His detailed research is evident throughout this documentary. It includes all the information necessary to know about Lyme disease including its background, symptoms, locations and hosts, prevention, and much more.

This film gives an in depth look at the unique miniature tick insect. Though at times a turn of disgust may be necessary - for the tick’s infectiousness remains truly disturbing - it is indeed a must see. The compelling knowledge learned concerning the sickness and prevention from these ticks certainly keeps one on the edge of the seat.

Watching this film taught me to keep my distance from tick-infested areas, and if a bite did occur, it gave the know-how to take action promptly. Thank you, URI!


Thank YOU, Sarah! HIDDEN IN THE LEAVES can be seen Wednesday, June 18 at 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, June 22 at 11:30 a.m.; and Friday, June 27 at 7 p.m. Check our listings ( for additional dates and times - this is an important topic.

Do you have a story to share about ticks?