It is hard to believe that there has never been a feature film about one of the most iconic names in American History… the great story of abolitionist and freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman.
Rebecca Cammarata, Saint John Vianney Alumna (07), was one of the producers who was lucky enough to get the chance to bring Tubman’s story to the big screen. Cammarata and her colleagues took a disregarded Disney script, from 1996, and turned it into the masterpiece feature film ‘Harriet’ released on Nov. 1, 2019, after four years in the making.
‘Harriet’ takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster telling the astonishing tale of Tubman’s journey from the chains of slavery to the well known Underground Railroad conductor and great American trailblazer. The film captures Tubman’s courage, intelligence, and determination that inspired the network of abolitionists that would free thousands of slaves.
Cammarata shared that one main challenge her team had to overcome was finding an actress that could capture the spirit of Harriet Tubman. Their search came to an end after a night at the theater when they came across Cynthia Erivo’s extraordinary performance as Celie in ‘The Color Purple’ on Broadway.
From October to December 2018, the crew worked 40 cold nights filming in the woods. Cammarata said one moment she will never forget was when Erivo, playing Harriet, crossed into freedom for the first time, after making the 100 mile journey on foot. While they envisioned that the scene would be a beautiful moment with the sun shining, the weather did not cooperate. While the unexpected weather put somewhat of a damper on the mood, they could not afford to reshoot.
As they started filming the scene, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds as if the sky was a symbol of Harriet’s final breakthrough to freedom. A beautiful rainbow draped the sky as Harriet approached the borderline.. Moments after they captured the shot the weather returned to its prior state. According to Cammarata, it was a truly magical moment, as they achieved the shot in one perfect take. She added that it felt as though Tubman’s spirit was there with them, ensuring that the scene embraced the revolutionary essence of her impact.
Another powerful moment on set was the night when they had to film Tubman’s journey across a river with a group of slaves. She led them through the river to avoid the slave catchers a few miles away. The actors were supposed to wear wetsuits, but Erivo refused, as the real Harriet did not have such luxury through her dozens of journeys. Cammarata shared that the whole crew was nervous for her health as she dove into the frigid river on a cold November evening. Moments such as these reminded Cammarata of her true passion for filmmaking.
Unsure of what she wanted to do as a career, Cammarata began her studies at Loyola University Maryland undecided. While taking a few film classes she fell in love with the tight-knit department and the process of film making. After college she knew she wanted to continue in the film industry, but felt that being on the creative side of the process was not for her. She started interning at a production company and quickly fell in love with the management side of film development.
Cammarata worked her way to becoming an executive at Red Crown Productions where she was an associate producer for the film ‘Hello, My Name is Doris’. She then moved on to become the Creative Executive for Jake Gyllenhaal's Nine Stories Productions. About four years ago, she started working at Daniela Taplin Lundberg’s production company Stay Gold Features, where she has been the Director of Development for the past two and a half years.
Stay Gold Features is a female-run film fund and production company that was established to produce films by auteur directors. Their mission is to produce high-quality films that strive to push boundaries by exploring the human condition.
Cammarata was also closely connected to the film ‘Honey Boy,’ that is currently rolling out in local theaters. She was the first person to read the script. Immediately she thought it was one of the best scripts she had ever read. ‘Honey Boy’ was written by Shia LeBeouf while he was in rehab in 2017, and shares the stories of his rough childhood.
As a small independent production company, having two big hits in one year is no small feat. After four years of hard work, Cammarata is excited to relax and enjoy the movies' success.