Idea: An experimental documentary film project exploring the spirit of a fast changing neighborhood.
Primary artistic medium: media arts
Amelia is a Black lesbian filmmaker, art producer, and community organizer from Philadelphia. Her work focuses on racial justice, gender equity and sexual liberation. She is the founder of Penn Community for Justice and Philly Human Rights Appeal, two groups working towards economic development and human rights in the Philadelphia area.
In 2020, Amelia Produced, Directed and wrote “Testimony: 52nd Street and the Invisible Violence of Penn” with artist Krishnapriya C.P. The short stop-motion animation film was based on her personal experience with police violence on May 31, 2020, when the Philadelphia Police Department attacked residents in her neighborhood for several hours. This film won the 2020 Shine Award at the Blackstar Film Festival and honorable mention for Best Animated Film at the Venice Shorts Festival. She is currently producing a fashion film project called, “True Colors,” with Director David J. Amado, about the gender expression of Black queer men in Lisbon, Portugal.
Amelia has 10-years of experience in Global Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s South Asia Center, where she holds a Masters Degree in Gender, Sexuality and Global Studies. She gained expertise in Impact Producing through Doc Society’s Good Pitch Philly program in 2021. In 2022 Amelia’s experimental documentary, “Spirit on 52nd St.” won funding from the Independence Public Media Foundation. This film, co-directed by Raishad Momar and Aidan Un, is about community change and uprising in West Philadelphia.
Raishad Momar is Black queer, Emmy award winning documentary cinematographer and journalist based in Philadelphia. As a staff videographer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Raishad films and produces a variety of short and long form videos, but what truly brings him inspiration are stories exploring memory, culture and belonging. In 2019, Raishad’s passion for archiving and elevating Black LGBTQ communities led him to pitch, shoot, edit, and co-produce one of his proudest projects — the short documentary film “Legendary: 30 Years of Philly Ballroom” — with his colleagues Cassie Owens and Lauren Schneiderman. The film honored the resilience of Philly’s LGBTQ Ballroom scene and won the 2020 Shine Award at the BlackStar Film Festival. Raishad’s films have also screened at the Philadelphia Film Festival, the San Francisco Doc Fest and QFlix, Philadelphia’s premier LGBTQ film festival.
Aidan M. Un is a French-Korean-American filmmaker and photographer. Filmmaking is a way for him to consider questions of culture, identity, and place. He recently completed his first feature documentary, “The Ancestors Live: 50 Years of Kùlú Mèlé African Drum & Dance Company,” which featured at BlackStar Film Festival 2020. In 2020, he and Raishad worked together to co-direct an independent short documentary about Harriett’s Bookshop, a Black-owned bookstore in Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, which won Best Local Short at the 2021 Philadelphia Film Festival. Aidan has a prolific collection of professionally shot short documentaries and creative video projects and currently produces films for Movement Alliance Project.
Raishad and Aidan live on 51 St. and Hazel, one short block from the 52nd St. corridor. Amelia is a homeowner on 52nd St.
The memory of 52nd Street as a thriving place of businesses and culture has faded. Due to policy decisions and a changing socioeconomic landscape, 52nd St. has faced disinvestment, vacancy and economic hardship. Despite this, in 2020 it became the battle ground between police and residents who rioted in fury of the national racial reckoning. It became fertile ground for residents who rallied for justice and organized large-scale grassroots community care campaigns. The corridor, even with its struggles, emerged as a place worth fighting for.
What do people from this community think about the explosive energy of the street? According to elders, is this normal, or is there a new kind of tension bubbling up? For youth, what do they see? Do they have a vision for the future of the corridor? Do they see themselves in that future?
To help the community grapple with these questions we are proposing the production of a film project called “Spirit on 52nd St.” The film is an experimental moving portrait which incorporates non-fiction/verite documentary elements, archival scenes, and some minimally scripted/directed scenes. The film will treat 52nd Street, as its main character, meandering between various stakeholders and memories, past and present, individual and collective.
We conceptualize 52nd St. as having a certain current– like the creeks that flow beneath it. Visually, the camera will flow with residents along the current of 52nd Street. The feeling this creates for the viewer is of seeing the perspective of the “spirit” itself. The camera/spirit will fluidly migrate (on a gimbal) up the busy corridor, moving into several Black-owned businesses along the way, and pausing for conversations with homeowners and immigrant vendors. These movements will be interwoven with archival footage of the corridor and home videos of uprising, overlaid with storytelling from residents. Our aim is to capture the current-day forces competing with the nostalgic nature and cultural history of the street.
By creating a cocktail of nonlinear memories, sounds, visuals and perspectives, the consciousness of the street will begin to emerge — at times, it will be as fluid as the characters that build it, and at other times, as jarring as the traumatic experiences that threaten to tear it apart. Ultimately the film will explore the soul of 52nd St. Where has it been and where is it going? Who can ride its currents and who will be swallowed by its undertow?
We see this film as a unique opportunity to foster a more holistic discussion about these difficult themes. Through the film, and the making of it, our intention is to cultivate a space for community members to think beyond their lived reality on the corridor, and instead enable an intergenerational imagining that can reawaken our connection to the intangible heritage of the corridor. This way, when we collectively dream of its future, we can be guided by this spirit instead of the chaotic outside forces pressing against it.
View her video