When driving through Philadelphia, I always find the murals to be one of the most uplifting parts of the commute. In fact, one of my favorites is right down the street from the InLiquid office, a colorful sprawl of words and portraits. So when the opportunity arose to attend a screening for and , two documentaries centered on the Philadelphia community, I knew it was something I had to see.
When driving through Philadelphia, I always find the murals to be one of the most uplifting parts of the commute. In fact, one of my favorites is right down the street from the InLiquid office, a colorful sprawl of words and portraits. So when the opportunity arose to attend a screening for Philly Painting and Pull of Gravity, two documentaries centered on the Philadelphia community, I knew it was something I had to see.
Screened on September 25 at 7 pm at the International House and put on by Mural Arts, the two documentaries were shown back to back after a brief introduction by Jane Golden, the Executive Director. She spoke about the nontraditional solutions to problems in the community, and how those are the solutions that will make a difference. The Philly Painting project was their most complicated project to date, and involved Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn (known as Haas&Hahn). The artistic duo first experimented with a project of this magnitude in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and were eager to bring their talents to Philadelphia despite the many complications and difficulties that faced the mural’s creation.
Philly Painting opens with shots of Philadelphia, showing dilapidated buildings and abandoned warehouses, and then zooms in on the community of Germantown Avenue, where Haas&Hahn were planning their mural. One of the most important aspects of their involvement in the mural project was implanting themselves as members of the community, living with local families and spending time with the people who live there. These connections would become vital to the project’s success, as residents would begin to work on the project and become personally connected to it.
After nine months of planning, the actual work began, and business owners and residents of Germantown Avenue were asked for their opinions and input. Overwhelmingly, the community members who appeared in the documentary did not seem to think that the project would do much more than “beautify,” but it did more than create a pretty façade for local buildings. People became proud of the area, and felt motivated to improve basic maintenance – some even expressed the desire to paint on the surrounding streets.
In Pull of Gravity, a documentary filmed at approximately the same time in the same neighborhood, the viewer is introduced to three men in various stages of reentry after incarceration. The documentary covered very personal aspects of their lives, from their childhoods and upbringings, to the time they spent in jail, and later to the “Pull of Gravity,” the stage of reentry where the rehabilitating convicts find themselves in a situation where they begin to relapse into their old ways. It touched on the cycles of poverty that occur in Philadelphia. At one point, the audience even saw a tense interaction between a group of young men on the street and police, in which it was clear that the police did not understand the lives and situations of this community.
This documentary is essentially ongoing – these men are still living in Philadelphia, still struggling through the same difficulties in their lives. I left the International House with a strange feeling of inspiration. Both of these documentaries ended on a note of cautious optimism – yes, there are problems throughout Philadelphia. Yes, there are obstacles to recovery. But there is always hope, and art is just one of the elements that can prove to be truly transformative in a person’s life.