This World is Not My Own

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Pre-Production


Born on the 4th of July, 1900, Nellie Mae Rowe lived through segregation, prejudice and poverty to ultimately be recognized as a groundbreaking, visionary artist.


Born on the 4th of July, 1900, Nellie Mae Rowe lived through segregation, prejudice and poverty to ultimately be recognized as a groundbreaking, visionary artist. For decades, she created a visual world in her home in Georgia that eventually attracted the attention of gallerist Judith Alexander, and then the world.


In a busy suburb of Kuwait City called Hawally, a group of young girls has gathered for an art class. Today’s lesson is inspired by the art of Nellie Mae Rowe. The girls work with crayons to turn the letters in their names into an imaginative animal menagerie. They’re making their names come to life. It’s a simple exercise, but it’s also an important statement about the power of imagination, transformation and visibility. It’s an example of how art should afford anyone the opportunity to be seen and heard, whether man or woman, young or old.

For most of her life, Nellie Mae Rowe made art in obscurity. She transformed her home in Vinings, Georgia into an imaginative, personal oasis that she called her “playhouse.” Nellie Mae didn’t depict the world around her, she transformed it, interpreted it, and morphed it into an alternate, more inhabitable, fair, beautiful and fantastical place. She made it a world of her own.

In her “playhouse,” Nellie Mae created drawings, paintings and sculptures that few outside of her immediate surroundings would see, until, late in life, she met the gallerist, Judith Alexander. In Judith, Nellie Mae found a patron and a conduit to reach an audience. In Nellie Mae, Judith found a kindred spirit, and a life-long purpose in making her art more visible. Nellie Mae and Judith formed a close friendship despite their racial, cultural and extreme economic differences. These two strong, independent women without families of their own, formed a bond around art, and a shared sense of being outsiders in their respective communities.

In the film, “The Russian Winter,” we used the format of a musician’s tour diary to tackle themes of redemption and second chances. In “Shield and Spear,” art and music became engaging gateways to explore issues of race and freedom in post-apartheid South Africa. In “This World is Not My Own,” we portray the complex life of a black, female, artist in the American South during the 20th century. We examine issues around visibility, friendship and the weight of history. We tell the story of a woman who was born an artist in a hardscrabble life, but overcame many obstacles in order to dedicate herself to her art. We tell the story of an artist who gave herself a voice.

“This World is Not My Own” will pay homage to the artist’s imaginative mind, and use it as a challenge to push the storytelling beyond the norm. The film will pursue less conventional, documentary storytelling techniques such as animation, song, dance, and re-enactments.

More than thirty years after her death, Nellie Mae Rowe has a place in art history. She’s recognized as one of our most important African American artists to date, but more importantly, her art has a lasting relevance and a resonance that reaches far beyond Georgia or North America. Her art reaches a group of young girls all the way in the middle east. It’s our hope that this film will help to amplify that reverberation.


Petter Ringbom - Director

Petter Ringbom’s debut feature documentary, The Russian Winter, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2012. His follow up, Shield and Spear, premiered at Toronto’s Hot Docs in 2014, and won the Silver Price at UK’s Passion for Freedom Awards. Petter’s films screened at IDFA, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Film Society of Lincoln Center, BAM, the Hammer Museum, Miami Art Basel, and at the international film festivals of Moscow, Gothenburg, Durban and Stockholm. He has been a Film Independent Fast Track Fellow, a Gotland Film Lab resident at the Ingmar Bergman Estate, a Midpoint Feature Launch participant and a Berlinale Talent.


Marquise Stillwell - Executive Producer

 Marquise Stillwell is the executive producer for Shield and Spear, Unspoken, and a number of short films. He is the founder of Openbox, a design consultancy that provides talent and resources into ambitious and innovative ventures. Marquise served as an advisor to the filmmaker Paul Devlin (SlamNation, Power Trip, Blast!) and has strategized for the poet Taylor Mali (featured in the film SlamNation). He has contributed to various programs at the Joyce Theatre, the New Museum, and MCA Denver. He currently sits on the board of the Andrew Goodman Foundation and the Lowline Underground Park.


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