Telling the story of a legendary woman

Photo Courtesy of Starfury Productions
Lori Brown Mirabal is filmed as she walks through a cemetery during the production of ‘Gabriel’s Daughter, The Life and Legacy of Clara Brown.’

MAPLEWOOD — Sharon Shepard Levine and Lori Brown Mirabal met at Clinton Elementary School where both had children enrolled as students.

That meeting led to a 20-year-effort to create what has become an award-winning documentary called “Gabriel’s Daughter, The Life and Legacy of Clara Brown.”

The documentary reflects on the life and legacy of freed slave Clara Brown as depicted in the opera, “Gabriel’s Daughter,” which was performed to sold out audiences at the historic Central City Opera House in 2003.

Mirabel, who is an opera singer, was just about to leave for Colorado to sing the part of Clara Brown when she met Levine, who became fascinated with the story.

“Clara had twin daughters; one died in a drowning and the other was sold at auction,” said Levine, a seasoned producer and director. “I am a mother of twin boys, that got to me.”

“Gabriel’s Daughter, The Life and Legacy of Clara Brown” delves deep into the heart of Clara’s journey looking for her daughter who was sold away from her at auction.

Clara walked along-side a wagon-train as a laundress and cook from Kentucky to the gold mines of Colorado, settling in Central City, where she became an entrepreneur.

The film sheds light on Clara’s remarkable resilience, unwavering determination and the impact she left on those around her. Through intimate interviews, never-before-seen footage, and emotional reenactments, the documentary paints a vivid portrait of Clara’s struggles and triumphs. It also includes Mirabal singing the role she premiered in Colorado.

“As a performer, singing the role of Clara Brown gave me the role of a lifetime,” said Mirabal, who lives in Maplewood. “I got to embody a historic legend. The documentary gives me a chance to bring this to a wider audience which was our wish from the very beginning.”

Lead cast members include Roger Baker, author of “Clara An Ex-Slave in Gold Rush Colorado”; Henry Mollicone, composer of “Gabriel’s Daughter”; Lisa Bryce, a soprano who played Eliza Jane and Eliza Brooks; Grammy-Award winning baritone, Kenneth Overton, who played Barney Ford; Matthew DeMarco, who played Col. Chivington; and Hanne Ladefoged Dollase, a contralto who played Evaline.

“This documentary film is not an opera,” Mirabal said. “It retells the story of Clara Brown through mixed media.”

Lori Brown Mirabal

Brown’s life should be an inspiration because no matter how bad things were for her she was always compassionate with other people, Mirabal said.

“I aspire to lead the kind of life she had,” Mirabal said. “She was kind, compassionate to everybody she met. She had great respect for all. I was impressed when the miners came to Center City, she would try to get them clothing or food, a place to sleep. I am most admirable of such a thing. That someone could maintain the kind of compassion she maintained in spite of the fact that she was born enslaved and her entire family was sold away from her. She continued to have love for people and tenacity. Her search was not just for the physical financial treasure but for her only daughter who was sold away from her. I have one daughter and that means a lot to me.”

Seed money to get the project going came from Henry Mollicone, the composer who has since passed away.

The work had begun before the pandemic hit but lock downs and social distancing created extra challenges in the filming and delayed the process though it helped Mirabal recruit excellent singers who suddenly had time on their hands.

The documentary ended up being 52 minutes long when it was finished at the end of 2022. It has aired once on Fox Soul and will be airing again on March 23 at 1 p.m.

“We hope that other streaming services as well as PBS will show our documentary so that Clara Brown’s life can inspire us all,” said Levine, who lives in South Orange.
Mirabal and Levine will be at the Colorado Museum in Denver for a showing of the film and a question and answer session on Nov. 15 and hope to do that with other institutions.

“We are honored to share Clara’s story with the world,” Mirabal said. “Her journey is one of courage, strength and resilience, and we hope that viewers will be inspired by her incredible spirit.”

Nubia DuVall Wilson, a Maplewood resident and co-founder, Starfury Productions, said her company is looking for additional outlets to broadcast the documentary.

“What an honor it has been for the Starfury team to be the U.S. distributor for ‘Gabriel’s Daughter,’ the Life and Legacy of Clara Brown,” DuVall Wilson said. “Starfury launched in November 2020 to carve pathways for underrepresented content creators who have TV and film projects that make an impact and deserve to be seen nationwide. Championing the goals of co-producers Lori and Sharon by securing the documentary on Fox Soul is a major milestone and we are eager to distribute it to additional entities.”

The documentary has won a number of film festival awards, including 2024 Winner-Feature Documentary Film, Moondance International Film Festival; 2023 Best Documentary Feature in The Artists Forum Festival of The Moving Image; 2023 Official Selection in Wales International Film Festival; 2023 Best Realistic Film in Reale
Film Festival-Bi-Monthly Awards; and 2023 Exceptional Merit Docs Without Borders International Film Festival.

Visit for more information.

“We live in a world filled with despair, you see it everywhere, and divisiveness, especially in this election year,” Mirabal said. “So we hope, Sharon and I, that Clara’s well lived life will help people see human commonality.”

Sharon Shepard-Levine