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The Queen’s Suite

Corine Dhondee

Former OBV intern Corine Dhondee is a documentary maker with a new project.

She writes exclusively for OBV about her experiences and her vision and the much needed assistance to bring the project to fruition.

‘This is hokey, but it means so much to me to see “thug -free” images of black men-especially young black men.’

The above comment was sent to me from an arts director in the States after he watched the trailer to my new documentary, The Queen’s Suite.

Another comment was sent from Tontxi, a filmmaker and educator in London, who wrote – ‘This features one of the young South East London Musician’s I mentored and now is attending Guildhall Conservatory in London…..pass it on and lets get this off the ground for Corine Dhondee and of course a fresh generation of World-Class London Musicians.’

What is the Queen’s Suite?

The Queen’s Suite is a documentary which tells the story of Peter Edwards, one of Britain’s most promising jazz musicians, as he tries to achieve his dream of playing Duke Ellington’s Queen’s Suite (written for the Queen in 1959) to the Queen of England at the centre of London’s cultural quarter, The South Bank. The documentary follows Peter as he scores Ellington’s work, puts together his orchestra, rehearses them and negotiates with Buckingham Palace. Does the Queen attend the performance? The film provides a unique and intimate insight into the background and career of an exceptional musician. The documentary has an original soundtrack performed by The Tomorrow’s Warrior’s Jazz Orchestra.

Who am I?

I am the director, producer, principal camera, editor and runner. In 2008 I saw an orchestra play in London. As I listened to the incredible music, played with dynamism by the young orchestra, who were guided by world famous Jazz musicians of the calibre of Gary Crosby OBE, and passionately directed by a young man, I was moved to make a documentary.

There was something else that moved me to make the documentary. The musical director was a young Black British man and so too were many members of the orchestra. This ought not to sound odd, but it struck me because at the time the media was saturated with images of young Black men in Britain as gun or knife toting criminals.

Having worked with young Black men as the entertainments manager for the St.Paul’s Carnival and as a journalist for Operation Black Vote’s citizenship booklet, I know this isn’t the full story. But what is true, is the lack of media coverage on young Black British men’s work and achievements.

So I decided to make a documentary about the young musical director and his dream of performing Duke Ellington’s the Queen’s Suite (written for the Queen of England in 1959) to the Queen.

I pitched the idea to leading English industry giants, the BBC, Channel 4, Britdoc, Channel 5, but none were interested in funding the documentary. Christopher Hird, one of England’s leading Executive Producers was interested. At a meeting I asked him if he would mentor me and he said yes, he would give me access to kit, but there would be no funding. So I took up his generous offer. On Christmas day and Boxing day 2008 I wrote the scene by scene and filming started in January 2009.

Without funding the film was made. Technicians would come on board because they liked the story. One friend paid for her boyfriend to fly to the UK to film, and a good thing as he had a camera and I needed two. When I couldn’t pay my rent a friend gave me his music studio to sleep in. He also leant me his editing suite.

What enabled me to carry on was my belief in the story and the inspiring music. I love stories, especially those that follow the Greek tradition of, ‘getting to the truth of the matter.’ I believe we have too many ‘single stories’ about Black British men. Young men are continuously shown images of male violence as normative and ones to aspire. We need more stories to re-dress this situation.

The documentary, by showing a young Black British man, doing the work, following his passion and creating extraordinary music, enables another story of Black male identity to be shared. It’s existence acts as a counter-narrative.

Recently I was invited to attend a conference on film into education. Here I learnt that the documentary naturally fits under the UK’s ‘Gifted and Talented’ strand. Gifted and talented starts from the premise, ‘all children are naturally talented.’

The initiative aims to work with children to strengthen their talents or guide them towards discovering their talents. It’s a wonderful scheme and I am hoping the documentary, with your support, will be used in the UK and globally to bring another story of Black male identity into the social arena and spur on young performers or young people who are interested in music and creative forms of expression.

Why am I writing?

The documentary is now at the stage that it needs further funding to finish it.

I have not been able to raise the funds in the UK to finish the documentary so with the help of a friend in LA I have put the film on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a scheme that enables creatives to pitch their ideas and raise funds for their project.

For as little as $3 (£2) you can support the film.

To make it fun we have secured some great gifts for you in exchange for a set donation.

One of the gifts is lunch with one of the UK’s most respected documentary Executive Producers, Christopher Hird. This year Christopher exec produced, The End of the Line amongst other documentaries. The documentary has gone on to change UK governmental policy and has had an impact on how shops such as Marks & Spencers buy goods. For a budding documentary filmmaker, a meeting with Christopher Hird is a great first step.

Premises studios has donated a half day recording session (5 hours) with an engineer. Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys record there. The guys at Premises are great and the studio is a wonderful environment to be in.

There are other gifts. Award winning Director of Photography Tunji Akinsehwina will do a workshop with you on lighting, camera, or both. The worshop is set up to suit your needs.

The director, Corine Dhondee, will do a workshop with you an how to make a documentary starting with £100.

Peter Edwards will do a one-to-one piano session with you. His most recent project was Population with Lemn Sissay, Gary Crosby and Dennis Bovell.

And you have the rare opportunity to watch TMJO rehearse. The crew felt privileged to film the rehearsals. It is a very special event.

To find out more please visit The Queen’s Suite on Kickstarter. We have until the end of August to raise our funds. Part of the funds will go to Stoma Baby, a charity being set up in the UK by my friend Charlotte Westmorland-Stubbs for babies and children with stoma.

Thank you for your time.


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