Reel Stories from the Hood: Neighbors make a movie, get to know each other

Written by on May 15, 2013 in Featured - No comments

Everyone has a “first story.”  It might be based on how they look, or where they live, where they go to high school, or what they do for a living. It’s a premise taken to be true, but it’s often incomplete.

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Shahem Mclaurin says his first story is this: “I live on N. Curley St. near Patterson Park. I go to Friendship Academy of Science and Technology, and I’m a young black man.”
Mclaurin says this leads to a certain set of stereotypes.

“Because I go to FAST, a lot of people assume I’m bad and reckless, and because I’m a young, black male, I don’t think people are comfortable trying to get to know me.”

This is Mclaurin’s second story: “I do work for two community organizations (Communities for All Ages and Banner Neighborhoods). I also work at Safeway. I’m not bad and reckless. Most FAST students aren’t. I like Baltimore. I think it’s a great city and I like how it’s growing.”

Mclaurin is just one of about 20 East Baltimore residents who helped create, and will make their film debuts in “Our Second Story,” a documentary made by Communities for All Ages and Greenpants/Luminous Intervention Projection Project.

“Our Second Story” explores first impressions and stereotypes of people and neighborhoods, as well as residents’ experiences of coming to and living in Baltimore.

“Banner and CFAA wanted to help East Baltimore residents and neighbors get to know each other better,” says Mclaurin.

“We all have a second story,” explains Leanna Wetmore, a community organizer with Banner Neighborhoods. “Our first story is often based on assumptions or stereotypes. Our second story is more nuanced.”

Greenpants is a group of artists and educators. Luminous Interventions is its video art and activism project.

“Luminous Interventions uses video projections—some with animation—shown on buildings and architecture to shed light on things that are going on in the city that may be under the surface or not visible,” says Greenpants member Olivia Robinson, an artist and teacher at Maryland Institute College of Art.

Greenpants has collaborated with several local groups, including Johns Hopkins Human Rights Working Group and Baltimore Heritage, to produce projections that shed light on issues such as, respectively, Johns Hopkins University’s connection to armed drone warfare and a large scale re-developement’s impact on West Baltimore.

“Our Second Story” is a story-collecting project that began about a year ago.

To make the 15-minute film, about 20 Patterson Park-area residents of all ages interviewed each other about what it is like living in their neighborhoods, and what brought them to Baltimore.

“They asked each other questions like, ‘What is your first memory of Baltimore?’ or ‘What do you love about living in your neighborhood?’” says Wetmore.

“I got to know people I would never have met otherwise,” says Mclaurin. “Before we made the film, we had workshops with Greenpants. My partner for one of those was Aida. She came to the U.S. from Colombia, South America, to escape the political and crime problems.”

Mclaurin says he asked his partner about what it was like coming to Baltimore from another country, and she asked him what life was like growing up in Baltimore.

Kim Wiggins, who has lived in Baltimore for four years, was interviewed for the film by her neighbor Ashley Watson.

“We talked about why we moved to the Patterson Park area.  My first story is growing up in the suburbs. My second story is about urban living. I wanted to leave the suburbs and live in the city. I’m closer to my neighbors here than I ever was in the burbs,” Wiggins says.

Watson, who also moved to the city about four years ago, says her first story is that she is employed in the IT field.

“But my second story is that I enjoy unusual, or even weird, creative outlets like swing dancing and Fluid Movement Water Ballet,” Watson explains.

Residents were also involved in editing “Our Second Story.”

“A few weeks ago, we showed the residents who helped make the movie ‘rough cuts.’ They sat through about an hour of unedited interviews, and they helped decide what were the most compelling. It was a lively discussion and incredibly useful. It also furthered the interview process,” Robinson recalls.

Mclaurin says he learned a lot about what goes into making a film.

“It was also interesting to see how people interpret their lives here in Baltimore,” he says.

Wetmore adds: “The process was powerful, what we learned from each other’s stories as we were making the film. “I think it took us by surprise—how natural it is to want to tell our stories to other people.”

Wiggins says she looks forward to watching the film.

“I am excited to hear what people think, and also about seeing it projected on the wall. A video projection on a wall, that you helped create that’s not something you see every day.”

“Our Second Story” will be shown Friday, May 17, 8 p.m., at the corner of Lakewood Ave. and Pulaski Highway, with seating in Library Square. Free hotdogs and popcorn. Bring lawn chairs. Visit for details.

by Danielle Sweeney

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