Thursday, June 9, 2016

Chicago Avenue Belongs to Us (1989)

I have been archiving some of the various videos I made over the years and thought that I might write something about some of them while I can still remember some of the circumstances of their production.

This was pretty much the first community documentary that I shot and edited. It was of a march down Chicago Avenue by residents of the Central and Powderhorn Park neighborhoods and block clubs that adjoined the avenue. The march was held to point out crime issues along the street and get local elected officials and the police department in support of efforts to make the area safer.

I checked out the basic VHS camera from MTN, the public access station that had its equipment checkout in the Lehman Center, on Lake Street in uptown. The camera was a big shoulder mount one with a separate VHS deck that would hang from your shoulder. The whole thing was pretty heavy in addition to being low resolution. I checked it out on Friday and carried it home on the bus for the Saturday march. By the end of the march, on a cold wet November morning in 1989, I was aching all over. On Monday, when I had to return the camera, I decided to shell out for a cab ride to take it back rather than lugging it on the bus again. After making this one I decided that I needed to somehow get some kind of smaller video camera of my own if I was going to keep on making things like this.

I edited it on the basic VHS edit system at MTN, which was also in the basement of the Lehman Center.

I did no interviews. I taped the event at the same distance as I might have if I was watching it as a reporter and taking notes (at the time I was editing the Powderhorn Park neighborhood newspaper, The Horn), and walked along with the marchers, taping as I watched.

This was long before the internet, so my audience was viewers of public access TV. My main obligation was to try to fill a 30 minute time slot, so I went long, luxuriously keeping the shots going. The documentary begins with a shot of the banner that is also the title of the video. All the people holding the banner are anonymous, their heads behind the fabric. It's almost like the banner is walking. It also ends on that shot.

At some of the different intersections, people would speak. I cut between the speeches and the video of people marching. It was a pretty simple formula.

I was able to let my mind wander and turn the camera from the speaker to something else interesting going on, like a girl on skates, or an interesting-looking person listening. The marching scenes give you a good sense of what Chicago Ave. was like in those days.

I didn't have great command of the titling machine at MTN, so I don't ID the speakers. Some of them that I remember are Mayor Don Fraser, City Council Member Sharon Sayles Belton, George Hoffman, Gayle Lamb, but there are many more whose names have vanished from my mind over all these years.

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