Homestretch in Bad Lands

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(Photo from set)

As I complete the last few shoots for  “It Only Takes One Night,” my documentary short on Philadelphia boxer Joshua Jones, I have been reflecting on context within the documentary genre.

A lot is written of the personal investment a filmmaker has in personal documentary and essay film, whereas when it comes to non-fiction portraiture we focus on ethics.

Perhaps this is due to portraiture’s position in the economy of films as status quo, at times appearing not unlike journalistic communication, and thus somehow a-political. However the act of independent filmmaking is inherently political. For me the responsibility is to be elevating underrepresented characters, questions and communities with care.

The omission of  myself as a filmmaker from my work is not a form of sidestepping accountability, but stems from a desire for connection – to connect my perception with another person’s – to portray intimately a space or person who has shown me something of the world outside of myself, and through process eventually of myself, and hopefully that process is replicated in some form for audience.

 

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(Film still: It Only Takes One Night)

My conversations with mentors have been about process of late, about the messiness of process, the evolution of the film materially due to the unforeseeable factors of life, chance,  money and time. But intention is valuable too. Crazy, blind devotion to your filmmaking intention for a project is what it takes to insert yourself into someone else’s space repeatedly, circling a person’s experiences towards greater meaning.I would love to have an engagement on that space between subject and filmmaker, putting a pin in ethics, to return to when needed.

 

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“It Only Takes One Night”: Outtakes From “Making a Name in Fight City”

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On a hot afternoon in August reporter Samantha Melamed accompanied me on a visit to Jose “Josh” Rosa’s boxing gym in North East Philadelphia. The result is the article “Making a Name in Fight City”, a story that captures the essence of the gym I have spent the summer filming at with Luis, J and Josh.

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(Film still: Joshua Jones)

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(Filming with Luis Esquillin)

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(Film Still Jeremy “J” Chausillant)

Some  back story: Josh opened BadLandz boxing gym in January of last year. The name for the gym spins the nickname “The Bad Lands” coined by the DEA to refer to the blocks between Girard and Indiana, Broad and Front Streets, an area plagued by poverty and the drug trade.  Now the name is appropriated by residents with a note of pride, and Josh’s BadLandz gym is situated somewhat centrally in the heart of the neighborhood.

I have been filming with Bad Lands based boxers Luis Esquillin, Jeremy ‘J’ Chausillant and an up and coming boxer from the area who fights out of Shullers boxing gym in West Philly named Joshua Jones. These men have opened their lives up to the camera. Skilled fighters, they have also shared with me the sweetness, sadness and bravery of their struggle to make a career in a tough sport.

While filming, it has hit home for me just how much the world of boxing becomes a refuge for the fatherless. Coaches surrogate-father villages of children, often for little money. Josh, the owner of BadLandz is no different. On any given afternoon before the older guys come into BadLandz gym to train after working day jobs, the gym can resemble a daycare center. When the opportunity for this story came I did everything in my power to make it happen, in part because I wanted to reaffirm this tradition of mentorship.

A number of my photographs and film stills accompany Samantha’s story. Here are some outtakes of some boys of BadLandz:

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The journey of my film on Boxers from Philadelphia’s Bad Lands is far from over but it feels good to see this ‘tribe’ of men get the shine they deserve.

(All photos in this post copyright of Madeleine Hunt Ehrlich)

The Journey is the Destination

More and more I find image making to be the ride, not the arrival.

This summer I have been on the move.

For the past year I have been working on a portrait of New York’s cricketing community called A Gentleman’s War with the generous support of National Black Programming Consortium. This project has brought me to the far corners of New York’s boroughs, to parks like Floyd Bennett Field and Gateway park, to Canarsie, Brownsville, Pelham Bay.

Lloyd Ratry, 2013(Lloyd Ratry, 2013)

HangwithProgressive(A Gentleman’s War Film Still, 2013)

At the start of the summer work on A Gentleman’s War led to my participating in the 50th anniversary celebration and conference on Clr James classic cricket memoir Beyond a Boundary hosted by University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland. Participants included respected Caribbeanist Selwyn Cudjoe and James widow Selma James.

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Later in the summer I had the privilege of spending a delightful afternoon discussing cricket with Dr. McMorris of Georgetown University and his father Jamaican world class cricketer Easton McMorris who played on the West Indies cricket team alongside the likes of legends Sir Garry Sobers and Sir Frank Worrell.

jet2(Jet Magazine, 1958)

I have been working closely with web programmer Luisa Covaria on an interactive web platform for the project and will be releasing all media from the project soon.

In June I spent a week in Colgate, New York at the historic Flaherty Seminar as one of the seminars Philadelphia fellows. This year’s seminar was curated by festival programmer Pablo de Ocampo.  A highlight were works screened by French Guianese artist Matthieu Abbonenc whose work exhumes the ghosts of Portugese and French colonial rule. In one film “Ca Va, Ca Va, On Continue, 2012” Abbonnenc takes several approaches to representing history: a scene from a play recalling revolution, an interview with star of Flora Gomes’ film Mortu Nega Bia Gomes, the cinematic depiction of a scholar studying archival materials. The film ends with a confrontation at a conference where two scholars argue the inability to fully comprehend or represent someone else’s story. Abbonenc presents and accepts in the fragmented scenes of the film the limitation of representation. The film is the journey.

And finally this summer I have been a woman living by car and camera, filming the exploits of three Philadelphia based boxers all native to the North Philadelphia neighborhood known as Bad Lands. The film incorporates elements of documentary and fiction. Production is expected to be complete by the end of August. Looking forward to sharing more on the project as it develops.

luiseye(Film still, 2013)

All images in this post are copyrighted and not available for use without permission.