By Katie Bradley, with Tess Riski and Madison Vucci
Note: For the third year in a row, our student assistants planned a campus event in support of Affordable Housing Week in King County, May 14 – May 18. This year’s team – Katie Bradley, Tess Riski, and Madison Vucci – decided to make a documentary focused on the gentrification of the Central District and the impact it has on access to affordable housing. On May 15, they hosted the premiere screening of their documentary and led a panel discussion after the film. Afterward, they reflected on what went well, what could be improved, what surprised them, and what they learned.
First, here’s the film on YouTube:
Our purpose for making the documentary, “Central Division,” was to showcase the impact of gentrification in the Central District in relation to affordable housing. As Seattle University students, we recognize how close our school is to the Central District and how many of our peers and students live off campus there. In our four years of attending Seattle University, we have witnessed the changing the Central District and have questioned the impact we have as students individually and as an institution as a whole on the black community in the Central District.
We decided to make a documentary so that it could be passed along to other communities and leave a longer impression as a conversation starter for Affordable Housing Week.
In the past our project has hosted a screening of the “American Refugees” animated short films and a Renters’ Rights Workshop for Affordable Housing Week. So we wanted our documentary to build off of the past events and model what the past project teams found to be helpful and worthwhile.
We hoped that the documentary and panel discussion would be a relevant and helpful tool for sparking conversation about the Central District and affordable housing for students and community members. We also wanted to stimulate ideas about what our audience can do to preserve the Central District and inspire advocacy for affordable housing.
After premiering the documentary May 15 on campus for a crowd of students, staff and community members, we reflected on our experiences through some questions that our supervisor, Catherine, asked us.
What was your role? What did you produce or accomplish for the video and the event?
Katie: I played more of a project manager role as well as an event coordinator role. I entered the idea of producing a documentary with no video editing experience. I had never even played around in iMovie. So, using an advanced video editing software like Premiere was a whole new world to me. Luckily, Madison and Tess were able to take the editing “front seat” since they had worked with Premiere before. I was able to play a bigger role in coordinating interviews and preparing for the event, although I tried to help with editing as much as possible.
Tess: I partook in various roles throughout the project, but I think most of my time was spent editing the documentary itself. This was a laborious process, mostly due to the fact that I’ve only used Premiere once before. But after getting the hang of it, it became very enjoyable. Other than editing, I shot b-roll, interviewed subjects and organized meetings.
Madison: I collected footage, including interviews and b-rolls, and help to story-board and edit the film. I also designed the flier and the credit scenes.
What do you think worked well for the video and the event?
Katie: The narrative arc of the video worked really well, and people seemed to like the end of the video, the big idea that Tyrone Brown shares. It really caused people to discuss his idea as well as ideas of their own. At the event, I think having a panel of professionals in advocating for affordable housing was really great because the audience had some hard-hitting questions after watching the documentary. (Our excellent panelists were Sean Abdul of Catholic Housing Services; Patience Malaba of Seattle for Everyone; and Miriam Roskin of Seattle Office of Housing.)
Tess: Passion. As a team, we are incredibly committed to the issues of affordable housing, homelessness and gentrification. After researching the Central District, the injustices that occurred seemed so self-evident to us and we were motivated to create something powerful and long-lasting in response to that. I think this passion was interwoven into the documentary and into our event itself.
Madison: I think how we created dialogue by filming dialogue with other people gave a really human representation to the issues. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with topics and information like this and people start thinking it’s not our place to talk about it, when really it is everyone’s place.
What do you wish you/we had done differently?
Katie: I wish we had started going through the interview footage earlier, so that we could have pieced together our narrative earlier in the process. By doing this, we would have had a more informed idea of what b-roll we wanted to use and we probably could have drafted our event questions and “script” earlier in the process. I also wish we had the time to interview more people. But considering that this was our first attempt at filmmaking as a team, I am extremely proud of it.
Tess: I would have left more time for editing. Our boss, Catherine, said that it takes approximately 800 hours to edit every one hour of film. Now, she was referring to Oscar-worthy films when she said that statistic. [Note from Catherine: I think I was exaggerating.] But the sentiment still sticks with me. Our documentary was 30 minutes in length at the end, but we probably spent 30 hours editing it total. I would have liked to have spread those 30 hours evenly over a month period or so instead of cramming them into a couple of weeks. But I’m happy with and deeply proud of the way the documentary turned out at the end.
Madison: I would have liked to have gotten at least one more interview featuring someone who lives in the Central District today. [Note: They tried.] While we did get a lot of first-hand experiences of the Central District, they were still kind of detached from the community with an outsider view. I would have liked to have emphasized the voices of the people that are living there now in order to respect their experience, and to also immerse ourselves in the community even more.
Did anything come up that you didn’t expect?
Katie: When we started to play the documentary at the screening, I think the entire team had a moment of panic as the video started to play two times slower than normally. Luckily, Asher, the tech person, had decided to stick around and watch it. He helped troubleshoot and told Tess and Madison to refresh the video and re-start it, which fixed the problem. Also, during the creation process, we ran into some complications in saving our files. So, I learned that if you don’t know the best way to save a different form of media, it is always a good idea to ask for help. Despite these unexpected challenge, we were always able to find a solution.
Tess: Pretty much the entire process of creating a documentary was filled with obstacles that I did not foresee. It was a learning process the entire time, which was actually really enjoyable for me. We constantly had to put our heads together as a team and figure out how to handle certain situations.
Madison: Similarly to Tess, I entered the process with little expectations since I didn’t have any documentary experience. With that said, something I learned was that you can never get enough b-roll or footage to keep the documentary visually interesting.
What is the outcome of which you’re most proud?
Katie: The outcome that I am most proud of is the documentary itself. From the beginning of the process, we realized what a big idea we had set out to accomplish. I think every member of the team was overwhelmed by the amount of work and coordination that was required to make a documentary. I was surprised to realize just emailing potential interviewees and scheduling their interviews was a lot of work. I am proud that as a team, we were able to overcome such a huge hurdle and make our first documentary. The fact that we made the documentary successfully and had such a positive response to it during Affordable Housing Week was definitely the best outcome of the project for me.
Tess: My favorite outcome is the audience response and engagement at the film screening. Immediately when we turned to the audience Q&A, hands flew up in the air. We actually had to cut off questions before everyone who wanted got a chance to ask them because we ran out of time. It was really special to spend hundreds of hours pouring our heart and soul into this piece of artwork, and for the community to be so moved by it.
Madison: I am proud for the same reasons listed above, and more importantly that I got to do this with Katie and Tess specifically. It was a wild ride and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else by my side.
Name 2-3 things you learned about gentrification in the CD from making the documentary.
Katie: It happened slowly and silently over time. And the gentrification of the CD is like a gut punch to the black community after facing a history of redlining and general racism, working to re-build a community, to just be pushed out again.
There is hope. As Tyrone Brown mentions, if people stop talking about how sad the gentrification of the CD is and start asking themselves what they can do to change it and to make a difference, the community could come back and we could work to preserve and maintain it.
Tess: That the process of gentrification in the CD is over by now. Charles Mudede really emphasized this point during his interview with us.
Once the CD became gentrified, that wasn’t the end of gentrification in the region. Now we see the issue spreading further and further south throughout King County to cities like Renton, Burien, Des Moines and Kent.
Madison: I learned that the City of Seattle has historically been extremely racist. To clarify, while doing research, we found copies of documents that the City of Seattle had written using specific terminology that I would have never expected or deemed appropriate.
I also learned how hard the fight against gentrification really is. Even if you have a community with a shared understanding of what is happening, there is a limit to the amount of change that the individual can do when compared to how much power the city has.
Did you have moments of anxiety about the video or the event? What were they, and how did you work through them?
Katie: I definitely faced moments of anxiety about the event and the documentary. I think the event gave me a lot of nerves because we were not able to discuss the “script” beforehand as a team. The run-of-show document really helped in keeping us organized through, and my confidence in us as a team helped me push through my anxiety and nerves.
Tess: I was nervous about what the audience’s reaction would be. I’m used to working in the journalism world where people tend to be highly critical, especially in the comments section of stories. But Catherine, Katie and Madison reminded me that this audience would likely be much more supportive of us and our film, which they were. Standing by my teammates’ sides also assuaged my anxiety a bit because I knew if I struggled with an answer or forgot to introduce a speaker, that they would fill in and support me in those moments. They didn’t let me down.
Madison: I think there were a lot of times that we were all thinking that we bit off more than we could chew. That was really nerve-wracking because we wanted to make this documentary as well as possible. We didn’t want to come off in the wrong way, with a white savior complex. So, we had to be careful ensuring what we were doing are most and making it so that it was done well in respect to the people that this situation affects most.
What advice do you have for next year’s students about planning this type of event?
- However long you think a task will take you, double it.
- Rely on the other members of your team, and work with the strengths of the group.
- Plan your time well.
- Don’t worry about “biting off more than you can chew.” It’s a really fun opportunity to go big and put all of your effort into one massive project. Tackle something you’re unfamiliar with: you’ll grow a lot from the experience.
- While we shot for the stars, I wouldn’t take our project back because we created something that people can share and reference for time to come. Try to make something as a Project Assistant that can go beyond just one moment in time.
- Communication is key. So, clearly communicate your skills and what you can accomplish along the way.
Name 1-2 things that each of your teammates produced for this event that you admire, and why.
Katie: I admired Madison’s poster that she was able to whip up in a day. She also made really cool Instagram story posts that we could add to our stories to promote it to students the day of the event. Her creativity and skillset as a designer is something I have admired about her from the start of the year.
I admired Tess’ headline and music idea, I think it was a powerful tool that added to the narrative of the documentary and allowed for the audience to see the headlines that show the CD community in a struggle for preservation. She has a strong sense of story thanks to her journalism background, and I was so grateful she was able to shape the narrative of the film into what it is.
Tess: Katie basically ran the entire event, which was a total godsend. I was unbelievably impressed with her. We were asked some tough questions – ones I had no idea how to answer – and she tackled those questions smoothly, professionally and with precision. She also led the Q&A portion of the event, which definitely got tense at moments. I’m so glad she was there.
Madison took on such a creative and artistic role throughout the entire process. She made our documentary enjoyable to watch, moving and beautiful. She really knows how to convey emotions through film and she by far has the most filmmaking experience out of the three of us. Her creative direction helped the documentary go from good to great.
Madison: I really admired how Katie took questions confidently at the event and how clearly she responded. I get nervous and flustered in front of an audience and assumed we all would, but I felt like Katie really took initiative to answer a lot of the questions coherently.
As for Tess, I was quite blown away at how she pieced together the interviews. For example, Katie and I spent 20 minutes trying to remember what was said in one interview compared to another. Without her, I do not know if the storyline would have been as strong.
What is your favorite image from the whole experience?
Katie: The image Lindsay took of our team after the event; we are all so happy we pulled it off!
Tess: At the end with flowers in hand (a gift from Catherine). In this moment, I took a sigh of relief for the first time in six weeks. It was a euphoric feeling and a huge weight came off my shoulders. I was so, so proud of what our team had done, but simultaneously so, so exhausted. That picture captured a mixture of relief and joy. Plus, it’s one of the few photos with our entire team together.
Madison: Figuratively, I love the image of the three of us going about the city and presenting ourselves professionally for interviews. Physically, I would have to agree with the image of us after the event. It captures how meaningful my co-workers and supervisor are to me.
Would you do this all again? Why or why not?
Katie: I would do this all again; I would like to have a longer timeframe because we were not able to feature as many voices as I would have loved to and we sort of had to rush putting the film together. So, with a longer timeframe, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat because we got to talk with really cool people to help us tell a really important story.
Tess: Yes! And now that I’ve made a documentary (this was my very first one), I feel confident in doing it again but with a much smoother, more well-executed process. Most of all, it was so much fun to spend so much time with my teammates. We got very close to each other by the end of it, which made it a really special and meaningful experience that I would do 100 times over again despite the fact that I barely slept for two weeks straight.
Madison: Most definitely! I feel like film is fun to work with and fun for audiences to engage with. So, I would do it for the film’s sake. I also enjoyed the way we did interviews and pieced together what professionals had to say about affordable housing and the gentrification of the Central District, rather than giving our voices hierarchy on the issue. I think our documentary and overall message was more reliable and stronger because of it.
To see the film, click here.
What You Can Do:
- Watch the documentary we made. Host a screening or invite friends to watch it. Have a discussion afterwards.
- Encourage your school, organization, family and friends to support Affordable Housing Week 2019. Attend the events celebrating Affordable Housing Week hosted by the Housing Development Consortium.
- Support the Central District! Go to local businesses and help to maintain the community. You can support organizations like Byrd Barr Place and the Africatown Community Land Trust.
- Be mindful of the history of discrimination that originally developed the Central District and of how you enter the community as a renter.