Libraries Collaborate with WU Faculty and Community on ‘Mean Streets’

Brian Woodman, curator for Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive, has been instrumental in organizing “Mean Streets: Viewing the Divided City Through the Lens of Film and Television,” a program that is part of the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF), which runs Nov. 3-13.

“Mean Streets” includes screenings that address the intersections between racial divisions and urban spaces. It includes discussions with filmmakers, film subjects, and Washington University scholars. All programs are free and open to the public.

“Mean Streets” is a collaboration among Cinema St. Louis, Washington University Libraries, the Missouri History Museum, and Washington University’s Sam Fox School’s College of Architecture. It is part of “The Divided City” initiative, a joint project of Washington University’s Center for the Humanities and the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design. “The Divided City” is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Brian Woodman

With additional support from WU’s American Culture Studies program, “Mean Streets” also includes four filmmaking workshops for new and experienced filmmakers to learn about the craft from professionals in the field.

We spoke to Woodman about “Mean Streets” and other Libraries-sponsored screenings at SLIFF.

Q: What issues did you want “Mean Streets” to address?

One of the things we hoped to achieve with “Mean Streets” is to reflect what the Center for the Humanities wants for The Divided City program. We hit local issues but did not keep the subjects entirely local to show how segregation affects many other places. We have a program with local components that deal with St. Louis issues, national components that deal with issues that have resonance in St. Louis but take place in other communities such as Camden, N.J., or Indianapolis, and international components that fall outside our regular conception of a divided city and expand to something larger. That’s how we came to something like “The Peacemaker,” dealing with religious and cultural divides in the Middle East, and “Bogdan’s Journey,” a historical case of about the last Jewish pogrom in Poland, where dozens of holocaust survivors were murdered. The silence in the Polish community around this tragedy has led to embedded divisions that still need to be confronted.

We’re also excited to have academic facilitators from Washington University lead post-film discussions allowing this project with the Libraries and SLIFF to broaden to so many other WU departments. We have faculty participation from American Culture Studies, African and African-American Studies, Performing Arts, Political Science, History, German and Jewish Studies, and more.

'Milwaukee 53206'Q: How did “Mean Streets” come together?

The Libraries and the St. Louis International Film Festival have been collaborating on screenings for several years now since the Henry Hampton Film Series debuted at the festival in 2014 with “Through a Lens Darkly.” Cliff Froehlich, executive director of Cinema St. Louis, and I were talking about additional opportunities to work together at the beginning of the year and realized that The Divided City program would be an interesting way to collaborate on a public event that could get additional support from around the WashU community.

Some of the films are submitted to the festival by filmmakers and some are sought out. We watched submitted films to make sure they were thematically appropriate and to see if they were interesting and of the quality to merit including in the program. Other films we heard about through the film festival circuit or we pursued because of the impressive reputations of filmmakers around issues of social and cultural division. For example, we sought out Gordon Quinn, one of the founders of Chicago’s Kartemquin Films, which has devoted itself to the expression of underrepresented voices for decades. Similarly, we were excited to invite Steve James, a longtime Kartemquin collaborator and director of the seminal documentary “Hoop Dreams” and many others, including our choice for the festival, “No Crossover.” The works of these men have inspired scores of documentary filmmakers.

With “Milwaukee 53206,” we saw the subject matter involved a community that has similar problems with racial divisions as St. Louis. The film deals with incarceration rates, which we know is an important subject nationally but also intersects with important work at WU with the Prison Education Project. We’re hoping the SLIFF program gives a larger platform for the films as well as the issues they represent.

Q: Will materials from the Libraries Film & Media Archive be screened at SLIFF?

Still from "More Than One Thing"

Still from “More Than One Thing”

A: Yes, the rare short film “More Than One Thing” (1969) will be screened Nov. 6. “More Than One Thing,” directed by Washington University MFA student Steven Carver, tells the story of an African American teenager growing up in the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. The preservation project for the film was completed at WU with the support of a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation. Footage from the film was used in the documentary “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” (2011), also screening Nov. 6. (Woodman is a producer of “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.”) The Libraries is also sponsoring “Rawstock,” a screening celebrating some of the educational films in the Film & Media Archive.

See the full schedule of “Mean Streets.” Also at SLIFF, Washington University Libraries is co-sponsoring the social activism documentary  “Agents of Change” as part of the Henry Hampton Film Series, and an encore presentation of “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise.” “Agents of Change” screens Friday, November 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Washington University’s Brown Hall Auditorium. “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” screens Wednesday, November 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Ritenour Auditorium at Ritenour High School.

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