The new production from a Hollins University film professor is receiving major support from the world’s leading distributor of independent films by and about women.
Associate Professor of Film Amy Gerber-Stroh’s Hope of Escape has earned official sponsorship from Women Make Movies (WMM), a nonprofit media arts organization based in New York City. For 50 years, WMM has backed women directors and producers in an effort to promote a diverse and inclusive filmmaking landscape.
“Hundreds of films by women have been made with the help of WMM’s Production Assistance Program,” Gerber-Stroh explained. Along with fiscal sponsorship, the program “offers professional development, nonprofit tax-exempt status, consultations, and workshops. Films and filmmakers supported by the organization have won Academy Awards, Emmys, and prizes at major film festivals worldwide.”
Currently in post-production, Hope of Escape is based on the true story of the journey of an enslaved mother and daughter who must escape before they are sold and separated forever. Their only hope is to connect with their free relatives in the North and convince the most powerful abolitionists of their time to help them.
“Hope of Escape champions the enslaved American heroes and abolitionist allies who, leading up to the Civil War, were willing to take on immense risk in order to combat the wretchedness of slavery,” Gerber-Stroh said. “As a descendant of slaves, I wish to add a different perspective to the lesser-known story of our collective historical memory by shining light onto the ‘above-ground railroad’ where slave masters were paid ‘ransoms’ (much like how Frederick Douglass gained his freedom) by families, mostly in the North, in order to free their enslaved relatives.”
Gerber-Stroh noted that “it ‘took a village’ to fundraise and emancipate a slave. Hope of Escape shows how my own family depended on a complex network of abolitionists, both inside and outside the United States. We see how, even though separated for many years and by thousands of miles, families (both free and enslaved) managed to keep their connections, holding onto hope that their circumstances would change for the better.”
Researching and making Hope of Escape has been a profoundly moving experience for Gerber-Stroh. “It has taught me that the women in my family, as well as women in scores of other families, did indeed resist with fierce hope in their hearts during slavery times. They courageously persevered so that their descendants (like me) can keep fighting and hopefully someday escape the national nightmare of institutional slavery and its lasting consequences. In a small way, my film is part of that fight.”
Gerber-Stroh has written and directed independent films, which focus on the intersection of memory, culture, and history, for over 30 years. Her films have won honors at numerous national and international film festivals. She chairs the film department at Hollins, where she teaches production, animation, and film studies.