After first hearing about On My Block, a neighborhood filmmaking project that encourages New Yorkers to collaborate in writing, filming and editing a short film using only people and places on one city block, we were skeptical. We can hardly get our neighbors to hold a door open for us, much less spend weeks working together on an unpaid project.
Mary Crosse, who is director of On My Block Films and co-conceptualized the project with Ryan O’Hara Theisen, told The Observer about their hybrid of filmmaking and community service. “New York can be so anonymous. When you get to know your neighbors, it can change a lot. It could potentially reduce crime or get people involved in improvement projects,” she said.
The rules are fairly simple: make a short film by using locations, actors, directors and cameramen from the block where you live. Films will be uploaded to Vimeo and will receive votes through “likes.” The top 15 will be shown at a film festival where prizes will be awarded for Best Narrative, Best Documentary and Best in Show.
Mr. Theisen recruited 16 neighbors for a trial film (which won’t be eligible for the prizes) on his own Carroll Gardens block, Union Street between Henry and Clinton. “He’s a celebrity on his block now,” said Ms. Crosse. “The neighborhood has really changed in a dramatic way, and now other surrounding blocks in Carroll Gardens are trying to compete too.”
To see it ourselves, The Observer sat in on a Prospect Park South block’s very first filmmaking meeting on St. Paul Place between Woodruff and Crooke. Miranda Childs, actress, writer and leader of the operation, put together a six-man team with the help of her housemate Kate Gandall, 63. We joined the gang at the three-story townhouse where three out of the six occupants, Ms. Childs, Ms. Gandall and Timothy Mele, 30, were gathered in the living room with their two neighbors, Patrice Miller, 26, and Aura “Ria” Maria Mure, 59. (The sixth member of the team couldn’t make the meeting.)
They only lived within three doors of each other, but it still took time for everyone to get situated.
“You live where?”
“Which house is that?”
“How long have you been there?”
Ms. Miller, who was approached by Ms. Gandall late one evening a few days prior, wasn’t surprised that they’d never met before. “I never hang around here and don’t know anyone’s name on the block. I guess I kind of feel alienated in a way,” Ms. Miller said.
Moved by Ms. Miller’s admission, Ms. Childs sympathized with her neighbor. “Well, I didn’t even have Tim’s phone number until I got this together, and we’ve been living in the same house together for a year and a half!”
Once everyone shared their stories of obscurity in relation to the block, Ms. Childs jumped right into the discussion, where the group shared talents, interests and ideas for the film. Jobs were assigned, a timeline was formed and the go-ahead was given for Ms. Childs and Mr. Mele to start on a script that would likely center on a dinner party with a sci-fi twist, courtesy of Ms. Mure’s fascination with aliens. But the most fortuitous development was the newly developed neighborly bond: Ms. Childs and Ms. Mure made plans to go to Orchard Beach to dance salsa, Ms. Childs and her housemate Mr. Mele will now be sharing tennis rackets and Ms. Miller will now have people on her block to say hi to.
Interested in meeting your neighbors and making your own film? It’s not too late. October 31 is the submission deadline. The On My Block Film Festival will take place November 17.