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Stars of YouTube

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An engaging new documentary tells the story of how Princess Shaw, a singer in New Orleans, caught the attention of the Israeli musician Kutiman

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

In the internet age, a musician toiling in her apartment can upload a song to YouTube, and, if the stars align properly, get a million or 10 million views. The video can go viral, as they say.

Samantha Montgomery, a nurse’s aide in a New Orleans nursing home, had dreams of show business fame. The 39-year-old singer-songwriter — whose stage name is Princess Shaw — put her original tunes on YouTube, where they garnered several dozen views. She showed up for open mike nights at local bars (often with a handful of patrons paying scant attention). Montgomery also auditioned for The Voice, the NBC singing competition. She wasn’t chosen.

Samantha Montgomery visits with Israeli musician Kutiman in Presenting Princess Shaw. (Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures).

As portrayed in the entertaining new documentary, Presenting Princess Shaw, unbeknownst to Montgomery, Ophir Kutiel (aka Kutiman), a musician living in a kibbutz near Beer Sheva, in Israel’s Negev Desert, found her songs on YouTube and used them in one of his mash-up videos, which borrow a few notes here and a few notes there to create an original composition.

Presenting Princess Shaw, directed by Ido Haar, an Israeli filmmaker, opens June 10 at the Lagoon Cinema in Uptown.

Montgomery, the film’s protagonist, visited the Twin Cities in April, for the film’s local premiere at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. She participated in Q&A sessions after two film screenings. There wasn’t much press interest in the film here; but the AJW interviewed Montgomery on April 12, at The Depot hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

Born and raised in Chicago, Montgomery has had a hard life. The film depicts her meeting with some long lost-cousins, and she talks with them about being sexually abused as a child. She’s been living in New Orleans for the past eight years. “That’s where I found my voice, New Orleans,” she comments.

Presenting Princess Shaw jumps from scenes with Montgomery in New Orleans and Atlanta (where she travels for The Voice audition) and Israel, where Kutiman is scouring YouTube for bits of music videos.

A climactic scene in the film shows Montgomery discovering Kutiman’s YouTube video, the mash-up of her song “Give It Up.” Director Ido Haar knew that Kutiman’s video had been released; he had approached Montgomery about filming her for a documentary about musicians on YouTube. She had no idea what was in the works.

In Atlanta, Haar filmed Montgomery over a period of five hours, and finally captured the moment when she first sees “Give It Up” on YouTube.

“That’s the first time I saw it,” says Montgomery, a jovial soul, with hair dyed flame red. “I had a really jacked-up phone… I tried to look at it, but my phone is shoddy, so I couldn’t see it.” She kept getting email messages, including one that said, “You’re about to go viral.”

When she finally saw the Kutiman video, she squealed with delight: “Oh, my God!”

“The melody to that song just puts me in a trance,” she says. “I think it was so beautifully done.”

Yet Montgomery says that she hadn’t “put two and two together,” as far as Kutiman’s video of “Give It Up,” and the documentary film crew following her around. Montgomery didn’t see the broad outline of her role in the film. “Not for a long time,” she recalls.

Kutiman’s modus operandi does not include informing YouTube musicians that they have been selected for one of his mash-up videos. He allows the magic of the internet to inform those chosen for YouTube fame. (In an exception, Kutiman’s videos of music in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem use musicians who perform especially for the productions.)

In the case of Princess Shaw, Kutiman remarks, “I started doing this project… and I had a track ready, and then I felt that I wanted vocals on this track. I searched for a couple of days for a vocalist. And then one day, I saw Samantha and pressed her video and it was just perfect. Yeah, this is how it all happened. I instantly fell in love with her voice and with the song, and it really inspired me to do the whole album.”

A Princess Shaw album, or EP, “is in the making,” says Kutiman, who talked on the phone with the Jewish World last week from New York, the day after Presenting Princess Shaw had screened at the Manhattan JCC. He participated in a Q&A session after the film, along with Haar and Montgomery.

Also, Kutiman, who created his own record label, Siyal Music, last year, will be releasing his new album, 6am, on June 17. It will be available on vinyl, CD and digital.

In the annals of show biz, there’s never been anything quite like internet fame. The video version of “Give It Up” — more than 2.6 million YouTube views as of this week — and the roll out of Presenting Princess Shaw have created new opportunities for Montgomery, who is travelling the world promoting the film. (And she’s still working in the New Orleans nursing home.)

Prior to the film’s release, Montgomery met Kutiman in person, at his kibbutz in the Negev. Scenes in the film show Montgomery in Israel, including a performance at Habima, the national theater of Israel in Tel Aviv. “Israel is my second home,” she remarks.

“She’s been a couple of times in Israel,” says Kutiman. “It’s quite amazing, she’s quite popular now in Israel. People would recognize her in the street.”

Montgomery’s fame in the Jewish state comes both from the YouTube video and from the film, which “is quite a success in Israel. I mean, it’s a tiny place, you know, you get to know everybody really fast,” Kutiman explains.

In the production notes for Presenting Princess Shaw, Ido Haar says, in regard to his documentary providing a platform for one musician to reach a larger audience: “It is not about stardom, but rather about the deeply human experience of being seen — an antidote to the loneliness and anonymity many can feel in a world that is constantly manufacturing new stars. But for me, above all, Kutiman, Princess and all the musicians who appear in the songs suggest a kind of Utopian path, where people from all over the world, especially those who are lacking representation and power, can share, create, express themselves, and maybe give a fight to the cruel, commercially oriented and unfair rules of the game that usually dominate in the worlds of music, art and culture today.”

Samantha Montgomery says, “I’ve had bad luck all my life.”

With the success of “Give It Up” and Presenting Princess Shaw, it seems that her luck has changed.

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Presenting Princess Shaw opens June 10 at the Lagoon Cinema in Uptown.

(American Jewish World, 6.3.16)

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