Past, Present, Future of East of Liberty films

When it comes to personal projects such as East of Liberty, I am an artist first, then filmmaker, but from the beginning of my life I have always been a minority and have experienced life like many other minorities. One of the goals of the East of Liberty series was to give the audience a view of life and how events could affect them – even when they are not directly affected.

Many neighborhood residents are very optimistic of the changes that are occurring but are equally cautious of the changes brought about by gentrification and the fear of displacement. It is my hope that, through the production of the East of Liberty documentaries, a greater understanding and respect will be accorded to the long-time stakeholders of East Liberty.

The purpose of the East of Liberty documentary series is to give voice to residents’ and business owners’ thoughts and concerns with regard to East Liberty’s recent redevelopment. This transformation will leverage East Liberty from a lower-income shopping district back to a mid- to upscale shopping and living zone, as it is said to have been during the neighborhood’s heyday in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Throughout the documentary series, East Liberty is identified as a neighborhood seeking to redefine itself and regain its status as a viable, thriving community, as told through neighborhood developers, residents and business owners. The third chapter for teens, In Unlivable Times, included the voice of youth in the dialog about the clashes between the various entities involved in East Liberty’s revitalization projects.

In Unlivable Times focused on unaddressed issues of youth culture, violence and the lack of motivators for youth in the East End during the rebirth of East Liberty. It examines the issue of youth violence and gang culture that has plagued the city of Pittsburgh for over a decade. The follow up film in production now, Youth Rising, will follow in a similar structure as we have youth discuss the film and join us in examining problems and try to find solutions. What is different and more exciting now is that the discussion has expanded to involved youth from Philadelphia dealing with similar issues. Some of our goals is to see a decrease in gang culture, teen violence and with other systematic social problems that keeps black youth from communicating and remain fearful of one another. From my understanding and experience, youth respond best to other youth than adults. We have found a way to communicate the wisdom that comes with age from adults to youth with the East of Liberty film series as the conduit.

As with the previous East of Liberty films, Youth Rising will be presented first in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia high schools, outdoor screenings and television broadcasts. Beginning in the Summer of 2015, a continuation from an initiative through two grassroots grants from the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts and Pittsburgh 250 Connections, screenings of all the films are planned in various struggling communities, including the Hill District, North Side, Garfield, Homewood, Wilkinsburg and struggling communities across Philadelphia. I strongly feel that the various screenings and broadcasts are the only way to make the documentary accessible to all. Plans for Youth Rising, like In Unlivable Times, are to have the film distributed nationally to high schools and alternative learning schools.

The primary goal in this documentary series is to create a forum for the community to interact and discuss how to bring about better understanding among us, which is essential in forming true communities. Currently, excitement over new developments is tempting the community to ignore ongoing racial and class inequities; the East of Liberty series has helped return people’s attention to those important issues. Finally, by serving as an entertaining primer on recent local history, the documentary will build capacity in the community, and serve as a catalyst for civic involvement and social change.

The East of Liberty series is a historical document recently supported by the Pittsburgh Foundation that will be studied for years to come. It is the only documentation project in recent city history that has been active since the project began and is giving the audience an opportunity to be a part of the changes happening. The long-term goals of the documentary is to have the film available in schools, libraries and archives in order to share the knowledge that the series has to offer for generations to understand an era passed.

Chris Ivey
Filmmaker
East of Liberty film series

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