Yesterday, we held the Bristol, R.I. premiere of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, at the Roger Williams University School of Law.

This screening was intended to introduce the film to interested residents of Bristol, where the D’Wolf family was based and where many of the U.S. scenes were filmed. It was also an opportunity to thank some of the Bristol residents who assisted with filming, and to let them share their reactions and concerns.

The screening drew about 330 people, far more than the appellate courtroom designated for the screening could hold. To the credit of the law school and its staff, we were quickly given a large lecture hall for a second, simultaneous screening, which was also quickly filled to capacity.

The film was preceded by local announcements and at least one local story, “New Film Details Roots of Slave Trade in Bristol,” with extensive information about the film.

In addition to my cousin Katrina and me, who were present at last week’s screening in Providence, family members from the film who were in attendence included my uncle Dain and his wife, Constance; Holly and her husband, Bill; and Elizabeth.

Following the screening, Katrina took questions and comments from the audience in the appellate courtroom with Dain and Holly. Elizabeth and I did the same in the lecture hall across the way.

This was almost entirely a local Bristol audience, and so largely consisted of white residents with a particular interest in the local aspects of the film, such as its impact on Bristol’s image and institutions. I found the audience in the lecture hall to be remarkably receptive to, and respectful of, the film, whether or not they agreed with its basic premises. The comments and questions from the audience tended to accept what the film had to say, and differed mostly in seeing the message of the film as directed at Bristol, at white Americans as a whole, or at other groups in our society (such as whites whose ancestors were actually involved in slavery, or black communities elsewhere in the country).

This screening was also an opportunity to thank Bristol institutions which were helpful in making the film, including the Bristol Historical Society, Linden Place, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. As always, Rhode Island for Community and Justice, which handles our Rhode Island outreach, did a fantastic job organizing and running the screening.

Several of us finished the evening by going to the DeWolf Tavern in Bristol for a bite to eat. This is the award-winning restaurant in the old DeWolf warehouse where portions of the documentary were filmed.

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