The ways in which we sometimes find our calling in life can be a funny thing. Many of us find our life’s calling much later in life than we would prefer, and, still, some of us never do. For a large majority of us, finding the time to develop and cultivate our talents and interests can be the biggest hurdle between ourselves and the happiness of doing what we love to do. To me, that’s what makes artist Winfred Rembert’s story so fascinating.
In Vivian Ducat’s first feature-length documentary, we learn how Rembert happened to learn his leather-carving craft only after being wronged for trying to do right. The reality is that had Rembert never participated in the civil rights demonstration that landed him in jail, void of formal charges, let alone a fair trial; and had he never had the courage to escape from jail, he never would have met the man in prison (after being sentenced for the jail escape) who first showed him the artistry that has earned him national acclaim.
Ducat’s documentary provides viewers with an insightful look into the world of a man who was dealt a bum hand, seemingly, from birth. Conceived out of an adulterous affair that threatened to rock the foundation of the relationship of his mother and her husband, Rembert was given away to be raised by a great aunt, and spent much of his childhood as a field worker beside her in the cotton and peanut fields of Cuthbert, Georgia. Much of Ducat’s documentary shows Rembert, now based in New Haven, CT, back in Cuthbert, visiting the place and the people who would shape his future. All Me follows Rembert on a trip down a memory lane that makes stops at his childhood home, homes of friends, and throughout a city that was so rife with social and civil injustice, it would lead to Rembert finding himself on the wrong side of the law, while only trying to do what he knew was right.
Rembert’s time in prison proved be the blessing in disguise that he likely never envisioned. In All Me, Rembert explains how, while serving time on a Georgia chain gang, he met his future wife, Patsy, and how he met a fellow prisoner who would show him the art of leather carving. Rembert also reveals how that same prisoner, upon seeing how well Rembert learned the craft, pettily denied Rembert the use of his leather carving tools. Rembert, however, wasn’t deterred, and developed his own hand-made tools in prison to continue doing what he loved.
What he loved to do, and what he was great at doing, was re-creating images of memories from throughout his life as leather and dye portraits. The first taste of artistic success for Rembert started off as gift for a family friend who had shown kindness to Rembert and his wife during a time in need. That friend saw the value in Rembert’s artistry, sold the carved-leather portrait, and gave Rembert the proceeds. It was then that Rembert realized that the skill he’d picked up while serving time on trumped-up charges could possibly change his fortune in life. Rembert has expressed that most of his colorful carved-leather art depicts scenes and themes from African American life in segregated Cuthbert, GA and from the time he spent on those chain gangs.Directed and produced by Ducat, All Me is essentially a film about a good man, born into a dire situation, who endured a rough patch in life as a young man, only to find success and acclaim in his latter years utilizing a skill he acquired during the rough times. It’s a classic tale of this nation’s sordid history of civil injustice, remarkably producing something beautiful and encouraging. Rembert’s story is a positive reminder to all who see Ducat’s film that life will undoubtedly sometimes takes us down unfavorable paths; but it’s the lessons we take away from those situations that can determine who we’ll become in the end.
The documentary All Me: The Life and Times Of Winfred Rembert is now available on home video (DVD and VOD).
Watch the full film via SnagFilms (parent company of IndieWire) below: