Adam Carr and Wes Tank co-directed Three Neighborhoods: People, Place, Purpose, a short film exploring life in Milwaukee’s Clarke Square, Layton Boulevard West and Lindsay Heights neighborhoods. The film was created for the 10th anniversary of the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative and recently screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
Before filming began, we felt tense. Documenting and sharing a community’s narrative is serious, particularly in a media landscape where clumsy and imprecise stories are too common.
Then, we began. We rode our bikes through Clarke Square’s beautiful residential streets during Ciclovia. We watched a game of four square among cousins on a playground in Silver City. We were welcomed on corners and porches, invited into churches and backyards, joined football practices and community celebrations.
Early in the process, we attended a neighborhood men’s group in Lindsay Heights. While waiting for the session to begin, we got into a conversation with a young man helping prepare dinner. When we mentioned our need for a microphone operator, his eyes lit up. He knew the exact person — one text and two minutes later, his brother Joseph Bynum came across the street. In addition to being enrolled in MATC’s TV and Video Production program, he’d been eager for a foot in the door. We hired Joseph, still standing in the kitchen.
That moment of serendipity was an important one, and there were many to follow.
The generosity continued as we began the process of recording interviews. With the help of Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors and Walnut Way Conservation Corp., we recruited three groups of community members reflecting the makeup of their respective neighborhoods.
When the interviews began, we didn’t say “action,” opting instead to show participants aerial drone footage to help them see the neighborhood they know so well from a different perspective. Then, we mostly stepped out of the way, allowing the discussion to evolve on its own. Despite temperatures approaching 100 degrees during each recording session, the resulting conversations were filled with far more genuine and thoughtful ideas than we could ever pack into a short film.
During the editing process, as we listened to the material, we felt compelled to get back out and gather more visuals. This led us to some of our favorite and most personal experiences of the project. We spent a morning with Lucas and Martha Alamo in their stunning historic home, chatting over coffee and pancakes. We filmed Alberto Vilchis and his mother as they cleaned up their backyard after a graduation party. We went to Terron Edwards’ house, where we were welcomed for family dinner. We even passed the camera to his 3-year-old son, Terron Jr., who took a portrait of his father holding their dog, which ended up in the film.
When we arrived at a finished product, we felt good, but felt the project wouldn’t be complete until people in the neighborhood could see and react to it. In the coming days and months, we’re excited to find opportunities to screen the film in each community. And of course, the story of the city and each neighborhood continues, whether we’re there holding a camera or not.
Editor’s note: Adam Carr is a staff member at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.