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Q&A with ‘Preserving Our Past’ Producer Catherine Hoffman  History, TikTok, DNA and Honor 

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Above image credit: Catherine Hoffman is an award-winning producer at Kansas City PBS. (Ji Stribling | Flatland)
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5 minute read

Flatland: You say that the title of your latest production, “Preserving Our Past: The Story Continues,” alludes to history’s connection to the present. Why do you think it’s important to share history through this lens and connect the histories of folks like Sarah Rector to TikTok trends of today?  

Hoffman: If we don’t know where we come from, we’re prone to make the same mistakes, one. And two, we just have so much to learn from history, and I think there’s been this purposeful distancing of the present from history, and specifically Black history.  

When you know where you come from, and you stand in power in that, you become a little dangerous to the system and to the powers at be. A lot of folks don’t want us to know where we come from, and so it’s important to actively fight against that.  

I think what’s important about “The Story Continues,” and I talked about this in the film, but it’s easy to think about these events as words and pictures on pages. It’s just easy to think about these events as really abstract. So, I think “The Story Continues” as a theme is important to help people understand that we’re so much more connected to the past than we’d like to think. 

Flatland: Do you think it also helps you relate these stories to more of a younger audience who maybe aren’t as interested in history? 

Hoffman: I definitely hope that this connects with a younger audience that might not be as interested in history. Especially tying in TikTok trends and tying in present day films like “Nope,” I hope that it kind of intrigues younger folks to get interested in these things.  

But honestly, there’s such a huge market on TikTok for education and historical education. I’m not someone who thinks that all young people don’t want to learn or don’t like history. It’s just that it’s not taught in a way that’s interesting for folks and that’s okay. We just have to find ways that connect with the audience. 

Flatland: Often, our reporting and the stories we hear end up informing our lives. What’s one—or the greatest—nugget you took away personally from this project?  

A flyer shows two Black women smiling and reads "Preserving Our Past: the Story Continues IG Live Feb. 28 @ 12:30 pm featuring artist Cia Michelle, hosted by filmmaker Catherine Hoffman"
Tune into the Kansas City PBS Instagram to hear a conversation between Catherine Hoffman and Cia Michelle.

Hoffman: My favorite nugget that I took away was probably the entirety of my interview with Cia Michelle, the artist in the “Soft Black Girl” video, because she was just affirming so many things that I feel.

I was sitting there like I’m not even running this interview. I’m just taking notes on what you have to say, because it was just so relevant to me. 

Her reminding me that it’s okay to let your guard down. And her affirming me in that a lot of times, as Black women, people are really actively looking to take advantage of you in any way that they can. But how to combat that and be strong, and also soft. 

I think about her words a lot and I’m excited for the Instagram live, so I can hear more from her. 

Catherine will be joined by Cia Michelle on the Kansas City PBS Instagram today for a live discussion at 12:30. 

Flatland: It was so special that you were able to accompany the family to retrieve Willy James’ Medal of Honor. What was that moment like for you, as a young documentarian, to be trusted with that moment?  

Hoffman: A little scary. 

When they first were doing the rounds and trying to get the attention of media outlets for the story like back in March, they reached out to so many reporters in Kansas City and I was the only one that responded, which is crazy to me, because it’s such an amazing story. 

I kept up with that relationship because I know that if I don’t do it, it’s not going to be out there.  

But it just felt like a really, nice full-circle moment to almost a year after meeting them for the first time, get to see this story through.  

Flatland: Between “Preserving our Past” and “Passing the Baton,” this month has had a common theme of learning from our ancestors. I loved the anecdote you shared about your connection to family history growing up. Why do you think it’s important to study our personal and community history?  

Hoffman: I keep saying this, but it’s so important to know where you come from — even if you don’t like what you find, which is entirely possible, and you should prepare for that possibility.  

But the body keeps the score. The egg that you turned into, was in your mom when she was born. The things that she was experiencing, the things that your grandmother was experiencing are all knit into your DNA, and so, so much of who you are can be explained by where you come from. That’s personally fascinating to learn about. 

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel all the time, especially when it comes to trying to change the way that things are. There’s this quote from James Baldwin, “The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” 

Learning from the folks that decided to change the world is important because they have a blueprint for us to do that. 

And it’s also important to right the wrongs of history — especially when it comes to veterans and folks that have sacrificed everything, and civil rights leaders that sacrificed everything, to help get us to where we are today. Giving them the credit, or the justice they’re due. It’s never too late to do that. 

Flatland: Before I let you go, we’re all dying to know this story about running away from a horse. Were any filmmakers, or equipment, harmed in the making of this special?  

Hoffman: I don’t know if anyone’s dying to know, but that was quite an interesting shoot.  

There’s an old, kind of blind horse that they had … and the horse kept wandering into the shot and eating the interview set, so there was that.  

But he (Trae Q. L. Venerable) has a young horse that he’s still training. Obviously, when you’re on a shoot, you’re very protective of the thousand-dollar camera that you have, and so there were just a couple of times where I was cradling the camera and running away from the horse, but I was like, I gotta get this shot.  

But mostly it was fine. 

Flatland: Any future projects in the works that we should be on the lookout for? Or are you going to get a bit of a break after jetting off to the Sundance Film Festival for “Parker” and then producing this special?  

Hoffman: We’re still on the press circuit for “Parker,” which is the film that premiered at Sundance. There’s going to be a Kansas City premiere in conjunction with Kansas City FilmFest International in March, which we’re really excited about. But I’m in development for something else, but the wheels are turning. 

Flatland: Tonight, “Preserving Our Past: The Story Continues” will be screened at Equal Minded Cafe. Starting at 5:30 p.m. there will be refreshments and a selection of Black owned vendors set up prior to the screening.  

Hoffman: I kind of just curated my own personal best case scenario shopping experience, but I think that everybody will really enjoy it. Keeping your dollars local is so important, and Black businesses are so important, so I’m just really excited to have them there. 

Check out the event page for more information.  

Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 

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