On May 10th, Impact Hub Boston screened the documentary ‘This Ain’t Normal’ as part of an ongoing series of screening movies and documentaries that feature social causes. The well-attended screening was followed by a panel discussion with candidates running for the Suffolk County District Attorney position. You catch up with the details of the event in the earlier post Movies That Matter: ‘This Ain’t Normal’.
Given the powerful nature of the documentary, we caught up with the director Rudy Hypolite for a Q&A:
Q&A with Director Rudy Hypolite
Q: While we hear about gangs in the Boston area, many of us don’t know much more that what we might catch on tv. Your documentary went behind the scenes and humanized the gang life for many of us. How did you come upon doing a film about gangs? Why was this important to you?
Rudy: In my prior feature documentary film “PUSH: Madison versus Madison,” two of the star basketball players on the team were from two neighborhoods, Heath Street and Academy Homes, that had rival gangs and gang rivalry spilled out onto the court and off the court with the team. This spiked my interest in doing a film about young men involved in gangs in Boston, I grew up in Academy Homes, but wanted to try to give them or their advocates a chance to tell their back story and what led them to join a gang and go beyond the negative news stories about gang violence in Boston. It was important to be authentic in relating their story.
Q: You portrayed the plight of gang members through their own eyes and also through those who work on providing interventions. Why did you choose this format as opposed to a narrative style?
Rudy: I’ve directed and produced both narrative and documentary films and feel passionately that allowing folks to tell their own stories, in their own words is the most effective way to tell these type of stories and this format is conducive to that type of storytelling. I originally thought the documentary would be about the street workers and social workers who provide interventions, but the young men were willing to speak about their circumstances, so the focus shifted more to the young men and less to the StreetSafe Boston staff. It provided the opportunity to see them in a different light, thereby allowing us to humanize their stories.
Q: When you first got the idea for the movie, what were your goals? Have they been met?
Rudy: Originally, as I indicated, I thought the focus of the film would be StreetSafe Boston and their staff of social workers and street workers, who worked directly with the most dangerous gangs in Boston. In doing research, the staff took me out to meet some of the young men and they were willing to tell their own stories. No one really asks them or cares about their perspective, so they were more than willing to share their experiences with me and allow us into their world because of the trust they had built over the years with the street worker advocates. The outcome far exceeded my vision for telling their stories in such an authentic way.
Q: How long did it take to make this movie? What were some obstacles? Any lessons learned from the making of this movie?
Rudy: It took 3 years of filming to capture the stories over time and 1 year of editing to get the story to this stage, which I’m very happy with this final cut. This is an average length of time for making a documentary film. We encountered some obstacles initially in getting approval for the project and there’s always funding challenges as an independent production company between grants and self-financing. In terms of filming the subjects, we only had to shut down filming one time when things got dangerous and a couple of scheduling challenges, but overall, things went well. The main lessons learned is how important garnering “access” is in getting the essence of the story and that comes with trust. Also, sometimes as a documentarian, you have to be willing to shift your vision if things lead in a different direction and not try to force your vision and most times it leads to a much better film.
Q: Why is it important to make films that narrate social causes? Have you done other movies that touch on societal issues? Are there new ones in the making?
Rudy: At this point in my filmmaking career, I am only interested in making films about social issues/causes that give voice to the marginalized or underrepresented in communities of color. Their are many stories to be told and film is a great medium to convey this disparity. I’ve done films that deal with the migration of young, black women from the deep South to Boston to seek employment as domestics and how they were exploited, until they were rescued by an organization of black women from the Women’s Services Club led by Roxbury icon Melnea Cass. Also, last film “PUSH: Madison versus Madison” on the challenges faced in education, sports,and home lives by the coaches, teachers, and young men on an inner city high school basketball team. I am starting a new documentary project this summer that will deal with similar social issues, but more focus on a profession that is the lifeblood of our community, but get little notice.
Q: Currently, you are doing screenings in the Boston area. Do you have plans to distribute the film?
Rudy: We are planning a couple of screenings this summer, but mainly have a series of screenings scheduled for this fall at area colleges, such as Bridgewater, Harvard Law, Boston University and other community venues. Our team is in the process of shopping the film to different networks and hoping to consummate a deal before the fall. It’s a long process for distribution, but we’ve been successful in the past with national distribution.
Q: If people want to have the documentary screened at their local community venues, how can they reach you?
Rudy: We would love to screen the film in as many venues as will entertain the film, so we can reach as many folks as possible. We can be reached through our email or [the] Kreateabuzz Facebook Page and someone will be in contact to collaborate on a screening:
KB Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KreateabuzzDocFilms/
Email: Kreateabuzzfilms @ gmail.com