A series of short films shines a light on resilience in three Philadelphia neighborhoods
On Wednesday, April 20, starting at 7 p.m., the Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr will host a special presentation, Shorts from Kensington, North Philly and Germantown. This collection of short documentaries focuses on positive stories of renewal, resilience, healing and the rich cultures that give these communities their character.
Housed in Seville’s historic theatre, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute (BMFI) is a member-supported film and film education center. Through “independent” film screenings, community-focused special presentations, and an extensive film studies program, the institute seeks to “build community through film culture.”
It was the potential destruction of the Seville theater in 2002 that prompted Juliet J. Goodfriend, BMFI’s founding president and current board chair, to act. The building, which opened in 1926, was to be converted into a sports hall, which would require the cantilevered floors to be destroyed and meant it could never be used as a theater again. Over two years of zoning board meetings and fundraising, the fledgling non-profit Bryn Mawr Film Institute purchased the theater and began its restoration. It took a decade of work to expand the building, which now includes four state-of-the-art theaters, classrooms, a community gathering space and a cafe. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The institute was forced to close in March 2020 when the pandemic hit and remained closed for a year. To stay in touch with the community, they offered online options for many film courses and held free monthly film talks, where attendees got together virtually to talk about a film they had watched at advance in their spare time. These were successful enough for BMFI to pursue them even as the theater is open again.
Jacob Mazer is the Special Programming Manager and has worked for BMFI for six years. “Shorts often don’t make it to the big screen after their festival,” says Mazer. “So we’re delighted to have the opportunity to give them some attention, which I think they deserve.” The idea of organizing a screening of short films came after Jim Quint, director of Hello Sunshine, approached the institute to screen his documentary. Shorts are difficult to show in a theatrical setting, so the right context was important. For BMFI, the call for Hello Sunshine lies in its representation of the good in a district rarely seen from this angle.
“Kensington, North Philly, East Germantown — our neighborhoods have attracted media attention, some from within the city, some from out of town,” Mazer says. “And while there’s certainly some good journalism about these neighborhoods, I’ve seen a lot of material that covers these neighborhoods in a monochromatic negative light that has this sensationalist approach, a tone that I think is dehumanizing to people. who live there. They do not tell a complete story of the neighborhood.
Quint, a Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker, was working on a long-term project about the impact of gun violence that took him to cities across the country, including Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. It was someone at Temple Hospital who informed him of what Rox Pichardo was doing for his community in Kensington. Although the plan was to meet for an afternoon, talk and take pictures, Quint realized what he had here was a movie.
“With any creative project, you don’t know what it’s going to be when you start, and if you think you know what it’s going to be when you start, you’re often wrong,” Quint says. “The more I spoke with her, the more I realized how layered her story is given the years of gun violence, trauma and domestic abuse; the way she channeled it into service and the trials and tribulations that resulted – it’s a movie, it’s more than just photos on a website or a book of prints. It’s a film that really tells the story of this woman’s experience.
In less than 15 minutes, Hello Sunshine recounts Pichardo’s daily rounds handing out fruit and Narcan, giving lessons in emergency care on the street and to passengers on the Market-Frankford line, and his support for victims and families of unsolved homicides, all weaving his life story of trauma and loss. The result is a powerfully positive statement about people and a community that is more than just crime statistics.
“I’m trying to tell a very different story of Kensington than what’s been told,” says Quint. “I mean, if you do a Google Image search of Kensington, you only see the most horrible things in the world. Kensington is so much more than that, you know, there are amazing people living there.”
Bringing these stories to the public was exactly what the Institute wanted to do. “What we started thinking about is what role can we play in this? Is there a different story we can tell? Mazer said. “And we started looking for films that told different kinds of stories, films that we felt were made with integrity, that treated neighborhood issues with respect, dignity and sincere concern.”
The screening will feature the following films:
Hello Sunshine (2021), directed by Joe Quint, chronicles Kensington activist Roz Pichardo and her work supporting victims of gun violence, homelessness and drug abusers.
Dear Philadelphia (2021), directed by Renee Maria Osubu, won Best Documentary Short at the 10th BlackStar Film Festival. The film follows the stories of three fathers in North Philly.
BOMPLE (2020), directed by Joseph Spir Rechani, is the story of music teacher Alberto Pagán-Ramírez of the Instituto Puertorriqueño de Música, the musical traditions of the bomba and plena, and that of North Philly borincano community.
We are not our mistakes (2021), directed by Jim Tuttle, is about Reverend Michelle Simmons, who overcame her own struggles to lead Germantown-based Why Not Prosper, an organization dedicated to helping women reintegrate into society after incarceration.
After the screening, there will be a conversation with the filmmakers and the subjects of the documentaries with the audience. Participants are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance online.
RELATED COVERAGE OF ARTS AND CULTURE BY THE CITIZEN
Art For Change: the creator of hospitality
20 black artists to watch
“A Human Repository for Black History”
Frame black joy
Still from the award-winning film Dear Philadelphia by Renee Maria Osubu. Courtesy of BMFI