The Making of a Star—On YouTube—in ‘Presenting Princess Shaw,’ Hits PBS POV
An unexpected pair reveals music’s cross-cultural impact
By day, Samantha Montgomery cares for the elderly in New Orleans. By night, she writes and sings her own songs as Princess Shaw on her confessional YouTube channel. Little does she know that her fiery-red hair and soulful voice have captured the attention of a video artist 7,000 miles away on an Israeli kibbutz.
In an unexpected musical mash-up, Princess Shaw finds herself at the center of a viral video hit by Israeli producer Ophir Kutiel, known as Kutiman on YouTube, whose video mixes of amateur YouTube performers have graced the halls of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Montgomery’s bubbly, can-do spirit and Kutiman’s quiet genius come together in Presenting Princess Shaw, which offers a heartwarming look at the power of music, both as therapy and as a magnetic force bringing together wholly different personalities and worlds. Directed by Ido Haar, the film follows the pair’s parallel stories, as it cuts between Montgomery’s struggle to make it big in music and Kutiman’s secret plans to make that happen.
Presenting Princess Shaw has its national broadcast premiere on the PBS documentary series POV (Point of View) on July 17, 2017 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, now in its 30th season.
At the nursing home where she works, Montgomery’s voice fills the halls. She soothes residents with an expressive rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and takes breaks to dance with coworkers. When one of the residents inquires about the cameras, Montgomery tells her what she was told by Haar, that he’s documenting YouTube personalities. “I have videos on YouTube and he saw them and he contacted me,” she says. She has no idea that Kutiman—a friend of the filmmaker—has also seen those videos and has fallen in love with her work.
The audience knows this right away, lending the film a sense of anticipation from the beginning. On the other side of the world, Kutiman has discovered his new muse. Using a multi-monitor setup on a kibbutz, Kutiman pores over hours of Montgomery’s work and the work of other YouTubers who will accompany her.
Back in New Orleans, Montgomery doesn’t wait for chance. She sings at open-mic nights, auditions for The Voice and continues uploading to her YouTube channel, interspersing stirring melodies with heartbreaking confessionals about abuse in her past. Feeling weighed down by this history and a seemingly endless wall of musical dead-ends, Montgomery resolves to spend some time in Atlanta and try to break into the music scene there.
Montgomery’s struggles—and her refusal to bow down to them—make the drop of Kutiman’s mix featuring her bluesy voice all the more cathartic for viewers. Montgomery finds out about the track from a friend and watches messages of adulation pour in through the comments section. “Get an agent, QUICK!” writes one viewer.
Everyone wants to root for an underdog like Montgomery—a resilient, complex character. Eventually, she meets Kutiman in Tel Aviv. Before singing in front of a live audience, she walks the rehearsal stage, recording where she will later perform in front of hundreds. “If you could only see what I see in real-live time,” she says, almost certainly speaking to her growing audience online.
“There are so many people with great talent, original thinking and unique voices,” said Haar. “Most of them weren’t dealt the right cards at birth to have the access or ability to break into the often exclusive realms of music, art and culture. What are the chances that we will hear about them?”
He continued, “Presenting Princess Shaw might offer a modest, momentary fix for that. 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.”
“Samantha Montgomery is an all-American, modern Cinderella,” said POV executive producer Justine Nagan. “Her bubbly personality and persistent resolve are infectious, and her discovery by a producer on a kibbutz is made for television. Presenting Princess Shaw shows the possibility of creation across borders, ultimately illustrating the power of art to unite people. We cannot wait to bring it to public media audiences.”