Celebrity homes on the hit series MTV Cribs had to hit a certain level of luxury (and their owners, substantial stardom) before they'd be featured. But a new den-following documentary project is seeking out different criteria. Mott Haven Home Movies: South Bronx Cribs will offer local residents the chance to show what it’s really like to have a home in the NYC borough. Plus, all participants (13 and up) get to hone their filmmaking skills while they’re at it—for free.
Mott Haven Home Movies: South Bronx Cribs will follow the MTV show’s style, but swap the stars for New Yorkers in the projects, and the shockingly glammed-up pads for a look inside a neighborhood non-residents only think they know. After receiving start-up funding from the Bronx Council and the Citizens Committee for NYC, the project was launched by ID Studio, a Latino arts organization that provides theater-related resources within immigrant communities. Starting in late September, participants who call Mott Haven home will attend weekly workshops and construct documentaries about their cribs, going behind-the-scenes in the borough. The final products will be screened at ID Studio and Bronx ArtSpace, an organization aiming to support underrepresented artists. Depending on support and the success of their Kickstarter campaign, the series may reach TV after that.
Project Director Lucia della Paolera (who envisioned and pitched it all to ID Studio) is seeing to it that the South Bronx residents themselves—and not outsiders—decide what stories are told, and how. This is particularly prescient when it comes to participants from Section 8 Housing Projects. “I grew up in Brooklyn, down the block from some of the housing projects in Fort Greene,” she told The Creators Project. “There’s always been a stigma, even a sense of a barrier, around life there. The idea of ‘the Projects’ connotes a whole world of ideas from the outside, but how many outsiders have actually been inside? I think some residents are excited about the chance to change stereotyped perspectives. One participant, Esther, put it this way: ‘People already look at us like we’re from the hood and we’re no good, so the chance to show and treat our homes with respect, it just makes a big difference.’"
Lucia continues to tell us that there’s no hard and fast rule about how participants will shoot their videos. In addition to “Cribs”-style home tours, participants could do exposés, or showcase some part of the block or neighborhood—it’s less a direct spin-off of MTV Cribs than a conversation-starter. “What makes MTV Cribs lovable is its self-awareness and humor—we can explore that style in our workshops, but the participants will ultimately decide what to shoot, how to document their subjective experiences of their homes and lives. They can decide what people see. I think we’ll see a fluid range of self-representation—and that’s inspiring.”
With the workshop instructors (including two from Bronx Documentary Center) and shooting equipment (provided by Ghetto Film School) based in the surrounding community as well, the project comes full circle—100% locally grown. Many participants come from referrals from representatives of housing projects’ Tenants’ Associations, through partnerships Lucia developed. And some of them come from her more on-the-ground efforts—she works the block on the weekends, passing out flyers to locals and speaking to them in fluent Spanish and English.
We follow her one Saturday afternoon as she approaches residents. A few pass her up, but many indicate real interest—from moms in their 30s to high school kids looking to learn about film. “The flier I saw at Mitchell Houses had me at ‘In the style of MTV Cribs’—I knew this had to be cool,” comments Trudy, a particularly interested 22-year-old. Another local, Vivian, told us about her son in high school. “He wants to do professional wrestling but he’s interested in film school as well—this is perfect for him.”
As we come up on a basketball court, Lucia approaches exactly the right person. “I know like five students off the top of my head who are looking for exactly this kind of thing,” says twentysomething Elijah. His 13-year-old friend Dayany pauses her freestyle dancing for a moment to also take a flyer. She goes right back to dancing as we leave the park.
At the end of the day, hopes for the project are high. “We’re hoping to change ideas and inspire the community. We’re looking at who is worth hearing from by putting the focus on a marginalized group, and by providing that group a platform to speak for itself,” says Lucia.
Mott Haven Home Movies: South Bronx Cribs concludes its Kickstarter fundraising campaign on September 9th. To donate or learn more, click here.