On April 28, 2023 the Humanities Truck team hosted our very first film festival, showing the work of five project fellows from the past few years. It was initially going to be hosted in the Woods Brown Amphitheater at American University, but due to the rain had to be relocated inside to the Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater—thank you to Aram Sinnreich for helping to get that space reserved! Guests all traversed the rainy terrain outside to come and see the work of our truck fellows across several years, and being able to have all these folks in the same room allowed everyone to see and celebrate the result of each other’s hard work and see the connections between everyone’s work, even if they seemed unrelated at first glance. Check out the films and projects that we were able to share below!

The first project fellow to share their work was Benjamin Stokes, who made  the projects Voices Heard Along Penn Ave SE, and Hard Choices. Using the Humanities Truck as an ice cream truck to help bring in narrators, Voices featured interviews with residents of Anacostia discussing changes they’ve seen in the neighborhood, and what they’d like to see moving forward.

Hard Choices explains a game that Stokes and his team created to see what neighborhood residents would like to see moving forward. This was done by rolling a 10-sided die, which would select a specific topic and kick off a series of text messages that participants would respond to, answering questions within the randomly selected topic. If you’d like to see Benjamin’s projects, check out videos and photos below!

Next up was Out of Our Shells by Aram Sinnreich and Dunia Best. Using the Humanities Truck as a mobile recording studio, the Out of Our Shells team selected 14 DMV-area musical artists across a range of styles, genres, generations, nationalities, ethnicities, languages, and neighborhoods, and provided each one with a professional-quality recording of their work. Each artist retained the full rights to their work, while granting non-commercial use for it under an open license. We also captured b-roll and extensive oral history video footage from each artist. Check out the video below, and a galley of stills from the production of the project and video!

If you’d like to check out the music this team of incredible artists produced, go to outofourshells.com and take a listen!

Next up was Ludy Grandas, who presented a three-part video series entitled A Story in Motion about three different Afro-Latina women in the DMV – Johanna, Isabella, and Morelys.  Johanna is a former resident and current elementary school teacher in Mt Pleasant who shares how the process of gentrification impacted her community and neighborhood. Isabella is a young immigrant woman who arrived in DC as an adolescent, she shares how living in DC moved her emotions and cultural identity even closer to her native Colombia. Morelys is a Dominican young woman who shares her recent immigration experience to DC, the transformation of her poetry, and her engagement for a better world.

Ludy also shared Eliza, a short documentary that tells the powerful story of a Salvadoran woman who migrated to the United States more than a decade ago and is now a volunteer and truck driver in DC. Her new life has been interesting, but great joy came along when she could drive a big truck once more. Check them all out plus production stills below!

Next was East of the River, a short film produced by Benjamin Stokes and directed by Amin El Siwi and Phil Bouknight. East of the River begins with the tragic death of a young boy named Kelvin Mock, who died in a trash burn in the landfill that preceded Kenilworth Park in North East Washington, DC. The film tells the story of the Kenilworth area from a landfill to a park and provides a space for the residents to share their memories that had a connection to Kenilworth Landfill. Since it was made, this film has been shown at the Bethesda Film Festival, Community Stories Film Festival organized by Docs in Progress, and the DC Independent Film Festival, and won Best Short Documentary at DCIFF. Check out the film and a collection of stills below!

The last film we showed was Street Reporter, directed by Laura Waters Hinson and introduced by two of the main subjects: Sheila White and Reggie Black. In the film, Sheila White, 58, dreams of becoming a photojournalist and escaping her life of homelessness. Yearning to make this change, she studies at a local university while completing homework late into the night at the women’s shelter. As a reporter at Street Sense newspaper, Sheila and her reporting partner Reggie cover the story of DC’s “Tent City.” Along the way, they meet a charismatic tent resident named Mike who, much like Sheila, longs for a life outside the underpass. As the city moves to shut down Mike’s encampment, their journeys are threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, with unexpected results. Street Reporter is a deeply intimate, character-based film produced with community collaborators that provides a window into the power of community journalism in one woman’s life, casting a vision of the re-humanizing effects of life’s most basic need: a place to call home.

Street Reporter has won the following awards at film festivals – 

  • Best Short Documentary, Annapolis Film Festival, April 2022
  • Social Impact Media Award for Creative Activism, 2022
  • Audience Choice Award – Austin Film Festival 2021
  • Audience Choice Award – IndyShorts Film Festival 2021

The film has also been a finalist for the following awards –

  • Best Short Doc, Austin Film Fest 2021
  • Best Short Doc, Palm Springs International ShortFest, June 2022

Street Reporter has been an official selection at the following festivals –

  • Big Sky Documentary Film Fest, Feb 2022
  • Pan African Film Festival, Apr 2022
  • Justice Film Festival 2023
  • DC Shorts Film Fest, Sept 2022
  • United Nations Association Film Fest, Oct 2022
  • Original Thinkers Festival, Sept 2022
  • Washington West Film Festival, Oct 2022
  • St Louis International Film Festival 2021
  • Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival 2021
  • Heartland Film Fest 2021

If you’d like to learn more about the film and its subject matter, check out the website streetreporterfilm.com!

Had a panel of all the creators associated with each project that were in attendance that night, where the audience could ask questions about each project, how it was made, and why. During this panel, we also held a vote for the most popular film of the night, and the winner was Amin El Siwi, Phil Bouknight, and Jeffrey Madison’s East of the River. Having this panel allowed the audience and the creators themselves talk about their work in connection to other work in the city and the other folks on the stage with them. These conversations connected stories of gentrification between neighborhoods, the ways people have created art in their communities, and ways people around the city are work to change things for the better! In the coming years, we’re looking forward to working with all of these fantastic people again, and hope to continue having events like this, celebrating what we’ve done already and finding opportunities for the future.

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