This past Tuesday, the college’s Project Blueprints program hosted a film screening in LPAC Cinema to showcase the short film projects created by high school students from Chester, PA. The film projects were intended show a different side of the city the students call home, which they feel is often misrepresented by mainstream media.
Blueprints is a youth development program funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, according to the College’s website. It has been held at Swarthmore since 2005 and is operated in partnership with the college’s Black Cultural Center, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the Crozer Wellness Center, and the College Access Center of Delaware County. The program has worked with over seventy middle and high school students from Chester over the course of three awards of the same federal grant, according to Blueprints program director Ashley Henry. Through the program, Chester youth receive life skills and personal development education, career exploration opportunities, and academic and cultural enrichment.
The film screenings project developed out of a collaboration with Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Roseann Liu and her Urban Education course and the Blueprints Project. As a part of the course, Swarthmore students worked with the Blueprints program on the film projects, assisting in all parts of the process. Ashley Hong ’17 noted at the screening that this was not always an easy process.
“I think I speak for all of the ED68 students when I say that we’ve come a long way since January … Most of us started off as strangers. Not many of us knew how to edit film, and I think we were all unprepared to encounter a foray into filmmaking. It was a difficult process for everyone involved to balance in such a limited timespan, get to know one another with the tedious but nevertheless enjoyable demands and challenges and setbacks of filming and editing,” Hong said.
Before each film was screened, the Chester students involved in each project gave a short introduction to their film. The first film, titled “Dear Chester,” was made by a group of students from various high schools in Chester.
“We chose our title because our video project is a letter to the city of Chester. After collecting footage and completing our interviews, we noticed that there were a lot of things we wanted to share to people in charge of the city. Although we share many concerns in the film, it is clear that Chester is dear to everyone one of us,” one of the student filmmakers behind “Dear Chester” commented.
“Dear Chester” went from zero to one hundred real quick; the first line of dialogue in the film delivered a powerful message.
“… we’re perceived as nothing but a bunch of little hoodlums. We come from the hood, so we’re just bad people. I don’t like how people say that all of Chester is dirty and there’s just a bunch of violence, because that’s not all of Chester. That’s just the select few,” the first interviewee in the film said.
Despite being independent projects, the four films screened all shared common themes and even some common phrases. As each successive film was shown, phrases like “Not gonna do anything with their lives” and “Chester is not really a bad place” lingered in the cinema.
All of the films touched on the systematic dispossession the residents of Chester have experienced and the effects of that dispossession on the youth of Chester, specifically on how media coverage of the dispossession often portrays the city in the wrong light. Each film included testimonies from Chester students, and some included stories shared by community members, and despite the city’s problems, many of those interviewed expressed their deep appreciation for the city they call home.
After the film screenings, Liu read a letter thanking the collaborators that made the film projects possible, including the Swarthmore and Chester students, College staff and various facilities, and Laura Jackson, an Emmy-award winning filmmaker that consulted the students on the filmmaking process.
“This semester, I have witnessed incredible courage: the courage to clap back at naysayers of Chester, the courage to get in front of the camera to speak your truth, the courage to keep coming back when things were messy and tense, the courage to embark on something that you’ve never done before… and the courage to dream, to hope for a future that is not yet [realized], and to imagine into existence the way the world ought to be,” Liu said.