Wednesday, June 3, 2009

PATIENCE --- Community Filmmaking Entry 5/18/09

In July 2009 Brooklyn Young Filmmakers plans to shoot a short narrative film. We are inviting local residents to be involved in our “Community Filmmaking”. This Monday blog column will keep you updated on our next steps, introduce you to the volunteers and students already involved, and let you know how you might get involved.

Brooklyn Young Filmmakers participated the weekend of May 16th and 17th in the SONYA Stroll, curating an intergenerational multi-media art show at the Willoughby Senior Center in the campus of Fort Greene public housing.

“IDENTITY BOXES” by Benjamin Banneker High Students

From Ms. LeAnn Iverson’s art classes


We picked up our SONYA packet (maps, balloons, small signage) on Friday from the house of Kathleen Hayek the coordinator of the stroll. SONYA (South of the Navy Yard Artists) is an all volunteer neighborhood non-profit like Brooklyn Young Filmmakers. And Kathleen is the octopus, with many arms out, coordinating all the rapidly moving (or refusing to move) pieces. And in-between and beyond that she’s an artist. Though the focal point in her living room on Friday was the table and boxes of SONYA materials, our eyes strayed to the mysterious and beckoning paintings and sculptures on the walls. Kathleen had turned her house into a gallery space to be one of the stroll sites. ART LIVES AMONG US – It Is Us and U – Welcome! (Kathleen doesn't actually say that, but it's the vibe.) We took that spirit and our packet and headed for the Willoughby Senior Center in Fort Greene public housing. (For Kathleen’s profile and a glimpse of her art visit: )


We stopped by Banneker High to pick up two dozen freshly painted and completed “IDENTITY BOXES” from students in Ms. LeAnn Iverson’s art classes. Back at the Willoughby Center, Jenny Chan, a volunteer at SNAP ( ), opened up a black bag and out jumped ten GIRLS, GIRLS,GIRLS – framed comic inspired drawings of American princesses celebrating an innocent era. That Friday afternoon I finished mounting the pre-schooler art from Brooklyn Child & Family Services. I stayed away from visible tape and staples and cheap cardboard backing, knowing their value could be elevated if they were put in an attractive context:

The work of two 17 months old artists is given a lift
by the cloud and sky posterboard used to back them.
Below the paper flowers and vase done as a class project
by two year olds becomes the centerpiece for a dinner table.

These paintings by 3 yr olds are headed for MOMA
after their show ends at the Willoughby Center.


The turnout wasn’t what I had fantasized. About twenty strangers on the SONYA Stroll came through, and then there were a few friends, a few people connected to Brooklyn Child & Family, SNAP, and Banneker High (the other organizations whose artwork was displayed), and BYFC students and volunteers. We thought we would get a lot of the seniors who come during the week to the Willoughby, but surprisingly only a few came by.

Was it worth all the time and effort that went into putting the show together? I bought a small bleeding heart plant last year for the garden I grow outside the apartment building I live in on S. Elliott. It did so-so and at the end of the season I thought it had died. To my surprise it not only came back this year, but it has quickly grown into a big flowering bush. Seeds were planted with our participation in the stroll and it's up to us to make it worthwhile.



When was the last time you went into public housing?

The Willoughby Senior Center is half way down the block from the corner of Myrtle and N. Portland. Before you get to the center you pass large stretches of fenced grass surrounding six storied public housing buildings set back from the street. You can’t post any signage along there. When you get to the Willoughby Senior Center you wouldn’t know what it was because it’s housed in what use to be a childcare center, and what you see from the street is the fenced playground area with kiddy bars. You have to turn off the street and go on a walkway between a public housing building and the side of the center to get to the entrance.

We weren’t prepared for how hard it was for people to find us at 105 N. Portland. It was not until late in the day on Saturday we realized that someone had taken the SONYA balloons we had tied along the center’s fence on N. Portland to lead people off the street, and the small SONYA signs that might have been helpful posted in a storefront window, were hard to notice on the long stretch of fencing.

When we closed up on Saturday and left the Willoughby Center walking on N. Portland towards Myrtle, I noticed that a stretch of sidewalk and grass was full of litter – which is not the case at all when you go deeper into public housing and look around the entrances to buildings and the common outdoor areas. It was just on this disconnected stretch where many people passed by on the street.

I wondered, did some SONYA strollers get to N. Portland and start down the block trying to find us, only to turn back. Do people equate public housing and litter with danger? Next time, if needed, plan to pick up litter.

Those who did visit us on the stroll saw some incredible real estate -- sitting on table tops. Two seniors at the Willoughby Center decided they were going to have their fantasy houses -- even if they had to build them themselves. It took over a year, but here they are:

210 Ellis Drive
"My Brooklyn Ranch House"
Geraldine Ellis, Artist

888 Sills Lane
"My Spanish Villa"
Ruby N. Johnson, Artist


During the stroll weekend I sent some of our crew out to other stroll locations to pass out our flyers and invite strollers to come to the Willoughby. Tina Flemmerer, the emerging filmmaker from Germany who was cinematographer and editor for "POINTING FINGERS", set out with C'Allah Coombs, who was raised and lives in Fort Greene public housing, and who was one of the actors in "POINTING FINGERS". Tina later gave an account of their stroll:

TINA: When we walked out of the projects down Myrtle Avenue, C'Allah was saying 'Hi' to everybody and everybody knew him. I really liked how relaxed and open he was with his thoughts. When we crossed Fort Greene Park, suddenly it was me who became the talkative one and he became quiet. He was more watchful and reserved and there was no one he knew to greet. We both loved the art we saw and how the artists were there to talk. C'Allah had never been on the stroll either, and he kept saying how amazing it all was, and that even though it was the tenth year of the stroll, how he had not known about it.

The Banneker teachers and students who we invited to present had not known about the SONYA Stroll either. Now they know. And the stroll gave us an opportunity for creative exchange. Our film "POINTING FINGERS" features a character who sings a HipHop song he wrote. We heard that Banneker's Participatory Action Research Team, led by their teacher Askia Egashira, had a multi-media presentation on the "Relevancy of HipHop for High Achieving Urban High School Students". We invited them to view our film and give their presentation.

Banneker students listen to a presentation on poster art and the BYFC goal
of creating a multi-layered story in one frame (one poster).
Then they gave their presentation in poetry and statistics.

Their conclusion was that the spirit and love of HipHop wasn't dead, but that the
"business" of HipHop, with the promoting of gangster rappers and sex, had deadended.

We concluded the weekend with a screening of "POINTING FINGERS"
and a reunion of some of the cast and crew.


The artwork was still up when the seniors streamed into the center for lunch and bingo. I was told later by the Willoughby staff that the seniors spent a lot of time looking over the artwork. They were amazed by the work of the 17 month olds, wanted to buy the "Identity Boxes" by the Banneker students, and had discussions about the BYFC film posters.

– Trayce

p.s. i will be taking a holiday next monday - so check back first week of june for the next posting

(NOTE: This article was originally posted on 5/18/09, but because of a format problem it had to be re-entered)

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