Someone once said that putting videos on YouTube is like throwing messages in bottles out into a churning sea made up entirely of messages in bottles. Israeli YouTuber Kutiman (real name Ophir Kutiel) plucks those metaphorical messages out of the sea and stitches them together into novels; combining homemade music videos into beautiful symphonies. Presenting Princess Shaw is the story of Kutiman’s eventual collaboration with 39-year-old Samantha Montgomery, and it really does feel like a fairytale.
When we first meet Samantha, a New Orleans nurse with an incredible set of pipes who posts videos as Princess Shaw, she has no idea of Kutiman’s existence. Though we’ve already seen Kutiman’s working, and know that director Ido Haar has simply told her that he’s making a video about YouTubers. We watch her going through her day-to-day life, suffering crushing rejections and random acts of injustice (her car ends up on bricks at one point), until she finally learns that someone halfway around the world has helped her go viral overnight. It’s a reveal that would bring tears the eyes of even the stoniest audiences.
Of course, it’s easy to spot the ethical issues in both Kutiman’s mashup work and Haar’s narrative stacking of the deck. But it’s also clear that the director is interested in Princess Shaw for more than just her music. The woman is a genuine inspiration: she talks candidly of being horrifically abused as a young girl, and about how music became her means of overcoming her trauma.
Some may argue that Presenting Princess Shaw tells only part of a story, but that’s arguably true of just about any documentary. What matters is what we’ve got, and this is a thoroughly uplifting film about an undeniably talented woman and the beauty of online collaboration. It’s an utter knockout.
DIRECTOR: Ido Haar
SYNOPSIS: Talented but isolated, New Orleans care worker Samantha spends her spare time uploading acapella videos of her original songs to YouTube, to a smattering of viewers. Unknown to her, in a far away kibbutz, Israeli mash up artist Kutiman is composing his next viral sensation – with Samantha as the star.