In the fifth episode of the upcoming miniseries, “Dearest Eva,” a dozen or so mourners gather in a cemetery for the funeral of one of the story’s characters. The cast members appearing in the scene are dressed in period clothing and situated in an area that features scenic, sloping countryside as a backdrop.
It’s an ideal day for shooting with pleasant temperatures and clear skies on a late Saturday morning in September. Co-creators and producers Kamryn Fall and Riley Lozano knew that they’d found the perfect spot.
The group, Kryptic Films, was filming at Mount Union Cemetery in Philomath.
“We were just extremely excited to find a place that had actual significance to Black lives in Oregon and it was also extremely beautiful,” Fall said. “They did a little rewriting of history themselves by creating a place where Black folks could be buried with dignity, so we thought it was perfect.”
Fall’s referring to the history of the local cemetery, established in 1861 when former slaves Reuben Shipley and Mary Jane Holmes donated three acres of land to create a space that would permit burials of Black and White people. R. Gregory Nokes, author of “Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory,” described the cemetery as “a lasting legacy to racial cooperation and understanding.”
On its website, Portland-based Kryptic Films describes itself as a “collective of BIPOC artists working to tell our stories and help other disenfranchised folks tell theirs.” BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous and people of color.
“It’s a group of Black and Latine folks — we’re just trying to make art that reflects our stories and our experiences,” Lozano said. “‘Dearest Eva,’ in particular, was created out of this need just for fun, Victorian stories for Black and Brown folks that you don’t get to see.”
“Dearest Eva” is the group’s second major narrative work — the first was “The FUN-Raiser (to stop the end of the world), a 2021 Fertile Ground Festival featured project. Previous work has also included music videos for Kingsley and Brown Calculus.
Mount Union Ceremony entered the filmmakers’ radar through a director’s assistant who has an interest in cemeteries. The group reached out to Mount Union Cemetery
“She’s like, ‘you guys, this is really historically significant for what you’re doing,’” Lozano said. “Everybody at Mount Union Cemetery was super welcoming — Fran (Miller) and Janet (Cornelius) are super amazing … and they gave us some more history about Reuben and Mary Jane.”
Fall came up with the idea for “Dearest Eva” a few years ago when a remake of “Little Women” was released.
“I love period pieces and those classic romance movies like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and the new ‘Little Women’ was like the last straw for me because it’s just the same story that we’ve been telling over and over again that they dedicated so much money to and I sort of just rage wrote ‘Dearest Eva’ because I’m tired of these fairly fantastical plot lines,” Fall said. “It’s not like there’s anything historically accurate happening in ‘Little Women’ yet they sort of insist on bringing along with them the suffering and the oppression and just the total noninclusion of Black and Brown folks.”
So Fall had a little fun with the writing.
“I decided it’s time — if we’re going to keep telling these fluffy pieces where basically nothing happens except for people falling in love, we might as well get to have some fun with it and not introduce the historical suffering that’s been brought upon Black and Brown folks,” she said.
Fall conceived the idea of presenting a story not connected to a particular time in history, creating a brand new space that doesn’t need to bring slavery, gender oppression or land theft into the storyline, she said.
“Instead of focusing on these traumas, where usually Black and Brown stories are only valid if they’re told through this lens, we wanted to tell it through the lens of joy and love and let the drama come from a regular family,” she added.
Based on the period clothing, the “technical year” of the story is the 19th century when “Little Women” was first published.
“But since we’re doing this whole alternate history, we weren’t really worried about being historically accurate,” Fall said. “We were mostly just taking the language and the aesthetics of the late 1800s … what it would look like if Black folks and Brown folks got to play around with those aesthetics. What would it look like with natural black hair? Or, what would it sound like if your Victorian speech had Spanish in it.”
Fall, Lozano, co-writer Pedro Dominguez and head writer Julian Incoom got together via Zoom and plotted out the story. Fall said through Incoom, the story “turned into the beautiful script that it is.”
According to a section on “Dearest Eva” on the Kryptic Films website, the basis of the story goes like this:
“After a letter from her childhood crush arrives, a young Black woman struggles to balance love and happiness with her responsibilities as matriarch of her chaotic and dysfunctional 19th century family.”
After connecting with Mount Union Cemetery, Kryptic Films volunteers headed to Philomath ahead of time and did some work on the grounds — pulling weeds and cleaning up. Filming of the scene took place on Sept. 11.
“It was half a day … it was a lot of work for us to do basically one scene,” Lozano laughed. “That’s all we filmed at the cemetery was one scene … we carted like 25 people up from Portland down to Mount Union Cemetery.”
And when they returned to Portland, they got right back to work and picked up filming in the downtown area.
The co-creators settled on six episodes for the miniseries, which will be distributed online following a big event planned for December.
“At first, we’ll have a world premiere at the Old Church in Portland, where we also filmed some of the scenes and that will be on Dec. 28 — premiering the whole season to folks who are able to attend,” Fall said. “Otherwise, we’ll be releasing weekly online streaming.”
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