Here's what's up next for Even the WallsRead More
We won Best Short Film! Even the Walls will screen on June 13 as a part of Best of SIFF short filmsRead More
Pictures from SIFF!Read More
Early last week we were excited to learn that the Seattle International Film Festival 2015 program "Faces of Yesler Terrace" (Even the Walls + Hagereseb) had sold out in advance! Approximately 400 people filled the historic (yet soon to be lost) Harvard Exit Theater to capacity. We attribute this to being SIFF pick of the week, to some amazing coverage, and of course to our awesome supporters.
Thank you all SO much for making it out on Saturday. For those of you who couldn't find tickets, please know that we are planning future screenings, and will let you know their time/place once we have confirmed the details. You can sign up for direct updates here.
MANY THANKS TO OUR AWESOME CREW!
Seattle International Film Festival announced their 2015 Festival Line Up, including the premiere of our film Even the Walls, directed by Saman Maydani and Sarah Kuck. The film will play during the festival’s ShortsFest weekend, at the Harvard Exit Theater, May 23rd, at 11am.
Even the Walls is a 27-minute documentary, produced in Seattle over the last year. Traveling throughout the changing landscape of a once tight-knit community, and weaving in and out of personal vignettes, the film explores the diversity of experiences had while living in Yesler Terrace.
“We hope that the universality of the characters’ stories will help everyone connect to why gentrification is painful. Many people feel gentrification is for the best, and have a difficult time connecting emotionally with why being financially forced to move would be difficult. We see this film as a tool for building empathy.” Kuck said.
Unable to say goodbye to their homes or to each other, the residents of Seattle’s Yesler Terrace continue life as usual, taking care of the neighborhood children and tending their gardens. But time is running out. Over the next few years, developers will be transitioning their public-housing neighborhood to mixed-income, mixed retail. While some have already chosen to leave, others are still deciding what they will do next. Even the Walls collects what evidence is left of more than seven decades of carefully cultivated human connectivity.
For pass and ticket information please click here
Through intimate interviews and cinematic portraits Even the Walls seeks to transcend the immediate question of relocation to honor the stories of Yesler’s residents and their neighborhood, before they are lost.
We used video to record the interactions, both past and present, that make Yesler valuable to its residents: social capital. Although not a marketplace commodity, social capital is Yesler's most valuable asset. One that residents worry will be destroyed after the renovations.
By traveling throughout the changing landscape of the once tight-knit community, and weaving in and out of personal vignettes, Even the Walls explores the diversity of experiences had while living in Yesler Terrace. In Yesler, neighbors watch each other’s children, take care of shared goods, and provide comfort and camaraderie.
These items are not taken into account during economic assessments evaluating the worth of a neighborhood. For many people, however, this is the most valuable thing they have. When these networks are taken away through gentrification or natural disaster, it can create tremendous mental harm. In her book, Root Shock, Professor Mindy Fullilove describes this process as the destruction of emotional ecosystems.
Not one resident believes their community will remain intact after the redevelopment, even though they have all have been offered units in the new mid-rise apartments. Many residents believe the 'feel' of the neighborhood will disappear when gardens, small pathways and front porches are replaced with condos, retail and office spaces. Some will stay out of convenience and attachment; others will leave, unable or unwilling to deal with the change. Once guardians of their own communities, the residents worry they will feel out of place and unwelcome in the new Yesler Terrace.
Even the Walls does not ask architects, builders, academics or public housing experts about Yesler Terrace and its “track record.” Instead it takes a more personal approach and speaks with the experts on Yesler Terrace and its efficacy: its community members. Those who know viscerally the reality of what will be lost and what we can gain by shifting our perspective from short-term financial gain to long-term prosperity for all members of our city’s communities.
Although linked to a number of politically-charged issues, the film’s storyline focuses on personal stories, seeking to foster empathy over sympathy. It avoids divisive thinking and finger-pointing, and instead exemplifies the life experiences we all struggle with, the joys we’ve known, and the desire for home, safety and belonging we can all feel.
Pieces of this article originally appeared in our sponsored post for the Seattle Globalist
We're loving this short piece from Oregon Humanities. It discusses communal spaces, architecture, gentrification and race in Portland, in a way that is very honest and compelling.
Arguments for gentrification typically lack any reference to how new construction will negatively impact historically important places for relating. Future:Portland takes a look at why spaces are important. It looks at why the disappearance of important places can feel like the disappearance of more than bricks-and-mortar, but of life rafts that helped people of color feel connected and at home in the Pacific Northwest.
This James Kunstler TED talk touches on the tragedy of the American suburb, and what we've lost in terms of human connection (and probably even sanity) with its development.
His talk's most salient point for us, however, has to do with the future of our cities. The imminent reality of our planet's inability to maintain our flagrant use of its resources will mean that we will need to do everything more locally. We'll live closer to where we work, and grow food closer to where we live.
But of course the idea living locally is nothing new.
University of Washington professor of architecture and urban design, Dr. Sharon Sutton recently visited this very concept with her students, when they explored applying afrocentric design principles to architecture. By studying arts rooted in the African and African-American experience, such as jazz, quilting, dance and literature, her students were able to glean a number of afrocentric design principles which seem to lend themselves perfectly to sustainable urban design. Among these principles were improvisation, asymmetry, being earth-centered, using leftover materials, making do with what one has, and a process of creation that is about the collective voice.
Using these principles, her students envisioned creating living spaces that are built around daily life practices, not consumerism. The spaces imagined were welcoming to people of all ages, and were place where people could live and work in the same complex. They imagined maintaining the texture of the city by having a number of small stores (instead of a single large one), and applying the purposeful use of silence in jazz to allowing for empty spaces within developments, so the block "has air passing through it."
Sutton's comment on the current building trends in Seattle:
"One of my dissatisfactions with what’s going on in Seattle in design right now is sites with many small properties are being massed into a single large building, which takes all the texture out of the city," said Sutton. "The reason why things come out looking so awful is because code has these maximum envelopes that are extruded forms on the site, and then the developers require architects to build almost to the maximum envelope, so there’s very little shaping of the building that’s allowed that anyone is willing to pay for."
So again we ask, why not take the time and effort to listen deeply to the voices our city's community members, value their knowledge and experiences, and see if perhaps we can't save ourselves the headache of another disastrous, frenzied wave of urban development?
From Kunstler's talk:
" ...No amount or combination of alternative fuels is going to allow us to continue running what we're running, the way we're running it. We're going to have to do everything very differently. And America's not prepared. We are sleepwalking into the future. We're not ready for what's coming at us. So I urge you all to do what you can. Life in the mid-21st century is going to be about living locally. Be prepared to be good neighbors. Be prepared to find vocations that make you useful to your neighbors and to your fellow citizens."
We came across this beautiful piece today about an art collective, made up of Black artists and art professionals, in San Francisco working to counter the diminishing number of Black voices in their city.
Responding to their city's Black exodus, they address themes such as the African-American history of displacement and their search for home and roots. Bringing more voices to forefront of the discussion on gentrification is essential, said one collective member:
"My hope is that there are many more stories that are being told....even within the African-American community, I'd like to hear a thousand stories about our experience, rather than just one."
San Francisco seems to be the poster child for tech-boom gentrification, with many long-time residents being pushed out, and with them, their contributions to the richness of the city. Seattle may not be too far behind.
What lessons can Seattle learn from San Francisco? How do we define progress? Is there room to expand our definition of progress beyond the mere material?
There's got to be.
We're big fans of Dr. Fullilove's work. Her book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It was pivotal in our understanding the history of urban renewal, its racial dynamics and the destruction of emotional ecosystems by misinformed urban policies.
Understanding wholeness and our interconnectedness is a theme we keep coming back to as we explore gentrification. Fullilove says:
We can face disasters if and only if:
- We understand that the problems of poor neighborhoods were not made by the residents, nor can they be solved by the residents alone; and
We understand that the inequality among neighborhoods affects the whole society.
Um, also, we just have to say - she liked our Facebook page--- we're so honored!
Last week GRITtv with Laura Flanders featured a 3 minute teaser from Even the Walls after an interview with Alicia Garza, co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Garza spoke to the importance of building movements without shedding differences. The focus on #blacklivesmatter, she explained, is not meant to exclude, but is a call to understand structural racism in America and how it affects us all.
"Changing #blacklivesmatter to #alllivesmatter is not an act of solidarity. What it is, is a demonstration of how we don't actually understand structural racism in this country. When we say all lives matter, that's a given...but the fact of the matter is some human lives are valued more than others, and that's a problem."
Denying the experiences of entire groups of people is problematic. Perspective and representation are important. Yes, we're all in this together. But our experiences are not all the same. Even the Walls was an effort to afford a platform for perspectives and experiences that often are drowned out by the mainstream. Instead of interviewing architects, developers and housing authority members about Yesler Terrace, the film focused solely on the experiences of its residents. Although not monetized, their social capital and experience of their community has value. And that value extends beyond the borders of Yesler. The community connections that Yesler's residents fear losing are what we are all losing.
The late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone's words ring true - "We all do better when we all do better."
"...if there’s a group of workers that don’t have rights, that means that your rights are being threatened…because there’s gonna be an excuse at some point to take your rights away from you."
"When we talk about black liberation being intrinsic to everybody's liberation we're really talking about how systems in this country have been not only built on the backs of black people and black labor, but certainly have been crafted to exclude and exploit black people. So if we are able to dismantle those systems, everybody is able to have a chance of living a better life..."
Can we really call it "progress", if (at the very best) members of our city community feel unheard, frustrated and without agency?
Sign up to our listserve and stay in the loop about Even the Walls!
A few weeks ago Seattle Weekly published a letter from a tenant to the investor buying their building. A response from a Seattle Landlord ensued. These two letters are a window into the lived experiences of gentrification and "progress". Both "sides" grappling with complexities and hoping for better solutions.
This December article from Josh Cohen at Crosscut is worth taking a looks back at. It very clearly articulates some of the most important details of the Seattle housing shortage.
"The availability (or scarcity) of affordable housing is literally shaping this city’s future, and to better understand this complex issue and its impact, you need to know how affordable housing is defined, why its shortage is being called a crisis and what city officials are doing to try to keep Seattle livable for everyone."
What makes city livable? What properties + spaces will have to change to make room for the more than 70,000 units officials say Seattle needs to provide for affordability? Will can we do to include families and the elderly?
There are some pretty differing opinions on how to fund affordable housing, who gets to live there, and where new units will get placed. Take a look, Cohen gets to most of the meat of the issue.
Alan Watts, The Wisdom Of Insecurity (p69-75)
"The question "What shall we do about it?" is only asked by those who do not understand the problem. If a problem can be solved at all, to understand it and to know what to do about it are the same thing. On the other hand, doing something about a problem which you do not understand is like trying to clear away darkness by thrusting it aside with your hands. When light is brought, the darkness vanishes at once.
This applies particularly to the problem now before us. How are we to heal the split between "I" and "me", the brain and the body, man and nature, and bring all the vicious circles which it produces to an end? How are we to experience life as something other than a honey trap in which we are the struggling flies? How are we to find security and peace of mind in a world whose very nature is insecurity, impermanence, and unceasing change? All these questions demand a method and a course of action. At the same time, all of them show that the problem has not been understood. We do not need action yet. We need more light."
Reading this text the other day made me think of our film, Even the Walls. After describing the context of the film, we often hear the question: What should we do about gentrification?
Some argue that gentrification is bringing safety and stability to blighted areas. Others argue that blight is just an excuse to tear down neighborhoods rich in history but poor in development dollars.
More understanding is necessary, and we chose to start with what's disappearing first: community networks in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. We wanted to inspire more questioning, more thinking, more critical intrigue. Why are neighborhoods important? What is community? Who gets to live in the city? Who gets to decide what the cityscape looks like?
What should we do about gentrification? Our film doesn't pretend to answer this question. It does, however, try to bring light to one community in Seattle, Washington, currently changing due to the pressure of the frenzied rush of people and money to the urban core. It brings light to the residents' attachment to an imperfect place. It brings light to the power of community connections, and the meaning of home. It makes us miss, appreciate or wish that we had those connections.
Do you feel connected to your community? Are you experiencing gentrification? What does home mean to you?