October 31, 2016

The Israeli music documentary Presenting Princess Shaw continues to be an audience favorite and critics’ choice for showing how a fairytale can come true.

Presenting Princess Shaw tells the heartwarming story of New Orleans-based singer-songwriter Samantha Montgomery (“Princess Shaw”) and her ride from anonymous YouTube user to full-blown sensation. Her songs get a reworking from innovative Israeli composer/video artist Ophir Kutiel and Montgomery goes from tens of views on her confessional video channel to thousands of likes.

Presenting Princess Shaw recently won Best Documentary at the Israeli Film Academy Awards and is one of the nominees for Best Music Documentary at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards to be announced November 3, 2016.

Movie poster for “Presenting Princess Shaw.”
Movie poster for “Presenting Princess Shaw.”

Kutiel, the Israeli mashup master known by the stage name Kutiman, creates music using unrelated YouTube videos. He fell in love with 39-year-old Montgomery’s voice and gave her songs musical overhauls.

When filmmaker Ido Haar heard that his friend Kutiel was making a new online music video project to follow his wildly successful 2009 ThruYOU venture, Haar thought he’d film the unsuspecting YouTube users who were about to feature in that new compilation. But upon meeting Montgomery, his focus narrowed to her alone.

“At first I was going to do a documentary about several singers and musicians. From the very beginning Samantha caught my attention. There was something about her. I found myself that same evening sitting in my home watching her YouTube channel. She was talking about work and talking about painful stories in her past. I knew I wanted to check it out,” Haar says.

As such, when Kutiman published Montgomery’s song “Give It Up” – on YouTube and as part of his Thru You Too album in 2014 – Haar was by Montgomery’s side to film her reaction.

Her utter disbelief and delight are the crux of the documentary that several movie critics have included on their personal lists of contenders for an Academy Award.

“For me as a filmmaker, you want to deliver an experience and message. The main subject of this film deals with the music. People can relate to the story,” says Haar, 42.

“The film is very much about Samantha and Kutiman but also about so many creative people with things to say to the world. There’s a chance you’ll never hear about them,” Haar tells ISRAEL21c. “There are so many people with great talent who you may never hear about. They just hope someone will see them; someone will believe in them. Many people can relate to that.”

Filmmaker Ido Haar made “Presenting Princess Shaw.” Photo by Russell
Filmmaker Ido Haar made “Presenting Princess Shaw.” Photo by Russell

Netflix bought rights to the film and started streaming it in mid-October.

“With Netflix, the film will be exposed to people from around the world. This is the best thing that I can imagine. I make films because I want people to see them,” Haar tells ISRAEL21c. “I have gotten responses from Madagascar and Nigeria and Australia. It’s quite amazing.”

Israel pivotal to her success

Haar and Kutiel hoped the song’s reworking would change Montgomery’s life as a down-on-her-luck nursing aid barely making rent. But they couldn’t have known just how much.

“I hoped the film would get a lot of attention. I didn’t imagine it would get to where it is,” says Haar, who also directed Melting Siberia9 Star Hotel, and Enlistment Days.

Montgomery, Kutiel and Haar have become genuine friends. Montgomery made her fifth visit to Israel at the end of October, and once again stayed with Haar’s family in Tel Aviv.

“It’s happened before that I have befriended a subject of my film but I don’t know if I can say it’s normal,” says Haar, a father of one. “With Samantha, it’s the strongest bond to date. She’s become a very good friend.”

In fact, Israel was Montgomery’s first international destination. She didn’t have a passport while Haar was making the documentary and had to get one upon being invited to meet Kutiman in person – a meeting that is captured in the film.

Her first promotional tour was in Tel Aviv. She has since promoted Presenting Princess Shaw in New Zealand, the United States, Europe and again in Israel.

Since the film’s release, Kutiel and Montgomery have worked together on a full-length album. The song “Stay Here” – from the new album — was released in March.

Haar says Presenting Princess Shaw couldn’t have happened when he started making documentaries 15 years ago, before YouTube, Facebook and other social media.

“The hopeful message of my film is that the platform of YouTube and the Internet as a whole can create a new stage for people. People can bring their talent to the world, which wasn’t possible 15 years ago,” he says. “Today, it is still hard but the chances of being seen or heard are more than they used to be.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director