In New Orleans, an elder care worker named Samantha Montgomery writes songs, records them acapella, and uploads them to YouTube under the internet name Princess Shaw. Half a world away in Israel, an eccentric musician named Ophir Kutiel, better known in the online world as Kutiman, scours the web for videos of musicians plying their craft and assembles them into “visual symphonies.” Presenting Princess Shaw shows what happens when Kutiman discovers the raw talent of Princess Shaw and puts his unique musical polish on it.
Presenting Princess Shaw shows both sides of the creative process, with director Ido Haar (9 Star Hotel, Enlistment Days) following Samantha and Kutiman through each of their creative processes. The Kutiman sections are fascinating, as Haar is given access to Kutiman’s home and rehearsal space, showing him discovering Princess Shaw’s raw material, composing his music around it, and rehearsing and recording with the “Kutiman Orchestra” as they lay down the backing tracks for Samantha’s vocals. Samantha’s story is a little sadder, as Haar witnesses first-hand episodes of the woman’s bad luck in between her recounting stories of abuse from her past. Even with her misfortunes, it’s easy to see what Kutiman saw in her – aside from being a talented singer and lyricist, Samantha Montgomery is a very upbeat, positive person with a magnetic personality.
Kutiman’s usual way of working is the classic “ask for forgiveness instead of permission” method of operation, as the original YouTubers find out about his reworkings of their songs when they stumble across them on the internet. Samantha is no different, and Haar is present when she initially hears what Kutiman has done with her music. With one play of a YouTube video, her luck suddenly changes, and she is wisked off to Tel Aviv to perform with Kutiman’s musicians.
There’s an interesting story behind the making of Presenting Princess Shaw. Ido Haar knew Kutiman from his previous “Thru You” project, and had been wanting to make a movie about him. His initial plan was to make a film about several of Kutiman’s subjects, but when he saw what the composer had been doing with Samantha’s videos, he knew he had his story. He contacted her under the guise of making a documentary about YouTube musicians, never mentioning anything about the Kutiman project. That’s how Haar was able to capture all of the found moments in Presenting Princess Shaw, including her first hearing of the Kutiman version of her song.
Presenting Princess Shaw is a fun story with plenty of nice, feel-good moments, but there’s no real drama to it. It’s just a series of events that, although fascinating, don’t really go anywhere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it is exactly what it purports to be – a document of the creative processes of two independent artists that serendipitously came together. And, at a tad over 80 minutes, it’s the perfect length; any longer and it would just draw attention to the fact that there’s no payoff. If you like your music documentaries to be drama-free, Presenting Princess Shaw is for you.