“People let me know my story was very powerful”
Private screening for Priced Out participants brought out the community, stirred up emotions.
This June, residents and on-camera experts involved in the documentary production Priced Out got their first chance to see the film. Their reaction? They loved it.
Priced Out held a private screening on June 28 to a packed room of about 100 guests. The audience was composed of the individuals who appeared on camera in the production and those who worked behind the scenes.
The screening also included the short film The Numbers about East Portland, produced by Priced Out assistant producer Donovan Smith and Priced Out videographer Sika Stanton [More on The Numbers in future posts].
[ABOVE: Slideshow of screening and reception. Click photos to advance.]
The film is a dramatic look at gentrification in Portland over the last 15 years. It features the story of Nikki Williams, a single black mother who struggles with the pain of losing her community to gentrification.
The audience was engrossed throughout the film’s 59 minutes. Viewers exploded into a thunderous round of applause as the lights came up. Some wiped away tears at the movie’s poignant conclusion.
“I was very moved by Nikki; it was extremely emotional,” said Fred Leeson of the Architectural Heritage Society. “I was wondering if this woman was ever going to find peace and happiness."
Leeson appeared in Priced Out as an on-camera expert. The June screening was the first time he’d seen the film. He was stunned at how openly Nikki shared her struggles, for good and for ill, in the neighborhood over the last 15 years.
“She was so forthcoming with the camera,” Leeson said. “What an amazing person.“
Priced Out blends Nikki’s story with the history of the neighborhood and its fate at the hands of housing discrimination and institutional racism.
Amber Dennis, an event volunteer, was paying close attention to audience reaction during the film.
“I think people felt affirmed to see the history on the big screen,” said Dennis. “There are very few places where you see the history of this neighborhood all at once. You see how discrimination, urban renewal, and gentrification all fit together and how our daily lives play a role in that.”
After the screening guests were treated to a reception where they took selfie's with director Cornelius Swart and got a chance to mingle and share their impressions.
“People let me know my story was very powerful,” said Michelle Lewis said. "They got to see me at my most vulnerable.”
Lewis, featured in Priced Out, works at Oregon Health Sciences University, but describes herself as among “the working poor.” In 2008 her family lost their home in the subprime mortgage collapse.
“The film did a good job of getting at the big picture,” Lewis said. “I think it brought people together and made them want to do something.”
Lewis felt Priced Out inspired viewers take action against the downsides of gentrification.
“People were talking, ‘OK, how can we get together as a community to hold public officials accountable!” Lewis said.
Representatives from local grassroots groups like Young Gifted and Black and city agencies like the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Prosper Portland (formerly the Portland Development Commission) were also in attendance. The filmmakers intend to partner with organizations that want to use the film as a tool to engage their constituents, open dialogue, and bring people into campaigns aimed at combatting gentrification.
Lewis for one thought white and minority residents in Portland and across the country would benefit from the film’s message.
“They should see the movie,” Lewis said. “Gentrification is happening all over. It can happen to you. The film is a wakeup call!”