2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW
The 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival is approaching its end on October 6. We’re covering as much as possible including films seen outside the festival. Which brings us to PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW, part of the Sound Vision program at this year’s festival.
PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW is about struggling New Orleans singer Samantha Montgomery, stage name Princess Shaw, who sings a capella on her YouTube channel, with about 83 followers, and struggles to get more than 2 people to stay for her set on open mic nights. Despite having obvious talent and passion, it appears that nothing will ever happen meaningfully with her singing career. However, one of her 83 followers happens to be Israeli musician Kutiman who happens to remix various YouTube videos into new collage compositions with millions of downloads. Unknown to Princess Shaw, she’s his next project. A fact that the filmmakers are aware of but which will strike Princess Shaw as a potentially life changing surprise.
There’s a lot to digest in this documentary, starting with the fact that it’s extremely personal and candid. What drives Princess Shaw to make music, despite the fact that she doesn’t look like she’ll ever make a living at it? How does her art help her cope with the hardships of her life? Beyond the personal, the film poses larger questions such as how does internet connectivity and the tools to create music anywhere affect people? How big is that potential considering the fact that the work Kutiman is doing, with no knowledge from Princess Shaw, could potentially change her life? That’s some heady stuff.
There are also questions beyond the frame of the film. There’s also the possibility that Princess Shaw is being exploited, which the film doesn’t quite address but where the film ends at least leaves it as a source of conversation. It’s all well and good that Kutiman doesn’t make a dime off his hobby, he already has celebrity and no major needs. There’s no video of him without a car because some thieves stole all the tires. He’s certainly approaching it from a place of privilege, while she could use every cent. She’s the one putting herself out there emotionally, while he’s cultivated his privacy. You could argue that the film is benefiting from her emotional state as well. I think there’s more good being done than harm, but it’s worth considering outside of the frame of the film. I don’t view this as a shortcoming of the film, but merely as an added dimension worthy of discussion beyond the frame.
It’s probably a little long in the middle while we’re waiting for the shoe to drop, but it’s an interesting, thoroughly modern film. You couldn’t tell this story a dozen years ago. Maybe that means it will be dated, but it’s by far a more interesting story than anything involving American Idol or The Voice. And it helps that even if Princess Shaw doesn’t become a music star, she lights up the screen and is a cinematic star. If you’re searching for worthwhile films at the Milwaukee Film Festival, this one should be on your radar.
PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW has two more showings during the Milwaukee Film Festival on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 7 pm at the Oriental Theatre, and on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 7 pm at the Avalon Theater . Tickets can be bought online at Milwaukee Film’s website.