Last fall Washington University Libraries partnered with Cinema St. Louis, the Missouri History Museum, and Washington University’s Sam Fox School’s College of Architecture, to present “Mean Streets: The Divided City through the Lens of Film and Television” during the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF). As part of the Divided City Initiative, these 15 programs, comprising 22 films, were accompanied by discussions and Q&As with filmmakers, film subjects, Washington University and outside scholars, and national cultural critics, to encourage conversation and community engagement.
The Mean Streets program included a series of documentary shorts by co-founder of the Chicago-based documentary collective Kartemquin Films, Gordon Quinn. Quinn was honored by St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) with the Maysles Brothers Lifetime Achievement Award in Documentary.
“Films don’t make change. It’s people who see films who make change.” –Gordon Quinn
In the discussion that followed, Quinn talked about how many of his films, and others by the Kartemquin collective, were not explicitly political on the surface but were able to engage the viewer politically by telling compelling stories. Quinn posed the question many documentary filmmakers face, “How do you speak to people, and how do you get people engaged who aren’t sympathetic to your issue or to the people maybe that are portrayed in your film?”
No Crossover, by acclaimed filmmaker Steve James, was also presented as part of the Mean Streets program. James, who produced and directed the landmark films Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters in association with Kartemquin, has often made films that explore questions related to race and segregation. No Crossover, produced as part of ESPN’s series 30 for 30, follows the story of basketball star Allen Iverson. In the Q&A following the film James talks about his personal connection to the story as someone from the same town as Iverson: Hampton, Virginia. James is simultaneously an insider, as someone who grew up in Hampton and was a basketball player, and an “outsider,” as someone who through time and distance is able to analyze and question the interviewees’ responses to an incident involving Iverson that brought the racial divide in the city into sharp relief.