HOME COMING: The Diaspora Suite on the Underground Railroad


Friday, November 9 | 1:00PM
Sandwich First Baptist Church | 3652 Peter Street | Windsor, Ontario

Screening of The Diaspora Suite with New York filmmaker Ephraim Asili in attendance. Hosted at  Sandwich First Baptist Church, significant terminus on the Underground Railroad. Descendants of original freedom seekers and cast members of Asili’s Windsor–Detroit film Fluid Frontiers in attendance.

In August 2016, Ephraim Asili filmed the fifth and final chapter of his famed Diaspora Suite in Windsor–Detroit. Shot exclusively on 16mm over the course of seven years in Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jamaica, and the United States, The Diaspora Suite was recently described by the Brooklyn Art Museum as a “revelatory cycle of five short films collapsing time and space to reveal the hidden resonances that connect the black American experience to the greater African diaspora.”

Fluid Frontiers, the culminating film in the series, features community members form the Windsor–Detroit region. Named for the recent scholarly publication “A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland, the film was awarded Media City Film Festival’s Grand Prize (2017). This significant repeat screening represents a homecoming for the film, an opportunity to visit this internationally significant landmark, and a chance to view The Diaspora Suite with filmmaker and cast in attendance.

Fluid Frontiers cast: Teajai Travis, Tawana Petty, Deborah Lee, Bruce E. Davis, Jonni Ujama, Leslie McCurdy, Irene Moore Davis, Genoa O’Brien, Kim Duane Elliott, Marsha Battle Philpot, and Efe Bes.

This event will be moderated by Greg de Cuir Jr.

The Diaspora Suite

Forged Ways, 15 min, 2011

Photographed in Harlem and various locations throughout Ethiopia, the film shifts between the first person account of a filmmaker, the third person experience of a man navigating the streets of Harlem, and day-to-day life in the cities and villages of Ethiopia.

American Hunger, 19 min, 2013

Oscillating between a street festival in Philadelphia, the slave forts and capital city of Ghana, and the New Jersey shore, American Hunger explores the relationship between personal experience and collective histories.

Many Thousands Gone, 8 min, 2015

Filmed in Salvador, Brazil (the last city in the Western Hemisphere to outlaw slavery) and Harlem, New York (an international stronghold of the African diaspora), Many Thousands Gone draws parallels between a summer afternoon on the streets of the two cities.

Kindah, 12 min, 2016

Accompong was founded in 1739 after rebel slaves and their descendants fought a protracted war with the British, leading to the establishment of a treaty between the two sides. Cudjoe, a leader of the Maroons, is said to have united the Maroons in their fight for autonomy under the Kindah Tree—a large, ancient mango tree that is still standing.

Fluid Frontiers, 23 min, 2017

Shot along the Detroit River border region, Fluid Frontiers explores the relationship between concepts of resistance and liberation exemplified by the Underground Railroad (the Detroit River being a major terminal point), and more modern resistance and liberation movements represented by Dudley Randall’s Detroit-based Broadside Press.

Ephraim Asili (Philadelphia PA, 1979). Studies at Temple University and Bard College. Working in film since 2007; screenings and exhibitions at TIFF, MoMA (New York), Milan Film Festival, “Projections” at NYFF, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Film-Makers’ Cooperative (New York), Whitney, etc. Third appearance at Media City. 2016 Mobile Frames Filmmaker in Residence. Media City Grand Prize Winner (2017). Lives in Hudson, New York.

The Venue

Sandwich First Baptist Church is the oldest active black church in Canada. A group of former slaves began an informal church group in the 1820s. In 1840, fugitive slaves from the Close Communion of Baptists formed the congregation. They worshipped outdoors or in the homes of individual members until a log cabin was constructed in 1847 under the direction of Rev. Madison Lightfoot. One acre of land was donated by the Crown for a new brick church in 1851. Fugitive slaves worked to construct the new church with hand-hewn lumber and bricks. The clay for the bricks was obtained from the Detroit riverbanks and fired in a handmade kiln.

The church was an important terminal on the Underground Railroad because it was situated near an ideal river crossing point. A series of tunnels and trapdoors helped facilitate safe arrival of fugitives. Individuals escaping slavery in America could make their way, with the assistance of members of the congregation, from the cellar of the church. Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in America, slave catchers would venture into Canada in attempts to capture fugitive slaves and claim their bounty. In the event that a slave catcher would arrive in the church a rehearsed plan would go into effect. It is said that the pastor would raise the alarm by singing predetermined hymns such as “There is a Stranger at The Door.”

The site is still an active church with a dedicated membership. Visitors to Sandwich First Baptist Church can still view the trapdoor in the floor. The church and other historically significant sites appear in Ephraim Asili’s film Fluid Frontiers.