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My Brooklyn: Replicating Their Model in Your Community

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Kelly Anderson, Director of My Brooklyn, during film production (Credit: Fivel Rothberg).

During the first week-long theatrical run of My Brooklyn at the reRun Theater in Brooklyn, NY, every night was sold out. Speakers came representing well-established organizations in the community. Shorts produced by local filmmakers opened several nights. Event organizers were turning people away at the door.

My Brooklyn, directed by Kelly Anderson, POV alum of Every Mother’s Son, and produced by Allison Lirish Dean, is a documentary about the director’s personal journey as a Brooklyn “gentrifier,” to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class.

Following the popularity of the first week, My Brooklyn will be returning to the reRun Theater for an extended run from Friday, January 25th – Sunday, Februrary 3rd, with two shows nightly and special guests for post-screening discussions.

How can you replicate My Brooklyn‘s success in your community? Below, Kelly Anderson imparts her advice on galvanizing relationships made during production, Kickstarter backers, working with limited financial resources, holding community screenings, grassroots outreach, and the boon of institutional support.

Community Relationships

Anderson: Keep a list of all the people you deal with over the course of production, and maintain those relationships to the extent that you can. There are a variety of organizations and people we connected to throughout the making of the film, including grassroots organizations, individuals in government, city council, community board, and academics. Every single person you talk to becomes a core member of the community of the film.

For our weeklong theatrical run at reRun, we were recommended by the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) to invite partner organizations to be sponsors, and make an event out of it, instead of only having the director do a Q&A. It was incredibly easy to figure out who to invite for these, because of the relationships we established during production.

We invited a lot of organizations that have large membership lists, like Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), who are featured in the film. By inviting these people to sponsor, speak at a screening and get the word out about that screening, it created a much broader network than just our family and friends.

Kickstarter

Anderson: We held a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 to hire an editor to finish the film. Those backers became the film’s early supporters, audiences and ambassadors.

Now, we have a large list of people who are in touch with the film because either they gave to our Kickstarter campaign, or because they emailed us about it. For filmmakers that have held a Kickstarter campaign, I recommend tapping into your backer list by exporting the list to an emailing marketing service, like Vertical Response. Send out a newsletter periodically to let people know what is happening with the film.

Community Screenings

Anderson: We didn’t even know we were going to have a theatrical release.

Before our run at reRun, we held a huge number of community screenings at churches, community justice centers and local college campuses, using whatever connections we had. We did many screenings with the series Brooklyn Reconstructed, about gentrification in Brooklyn through Filmwax. Once we premiered at the Brooklyn Film Festival and began getting word on local blogs and the press, people started asking for the film and started inviting us to screen it.

Instead of saying “No, we can screen it because we were hoping to have a theatrical”, we decided to be open to community screenings. At every single screening, we passed a clipboard around, and that was a great way to build up a list of people. And once we had the screenings at reRun, we could already send out to 1,000 people announcements that if you have seen the film, we ask you to become an ambassador for the film. All this helped build momentum for the screenings at reRun.

We didn’t charge non-profits for these community screenings because it created collaboration and strategic partnerships between us and key movers and shakers. I would encourage filmmakers to do community screenings, because you may not get any money, but it’s incredibly rewarding to share the film with people who really care about the issues. Then, you keep drawing on those people over time.

Grassroots Outreach and Working with a Small Team

Anderson: Like everything else on this film, it’s a handful of people on their own time, trying to get things done. I’m working with a small team that mainly includes me, Allison Lirish Dean, the film’s Producer, and Fivel Rothberg, the Associate Producer. Honestly, I’ve been doing a lot of maintaining the Facebook, the website, and all of us have been trying to book speakers and contacting press. It would have been great to have a publicist, but finishing the film with so much debt, there was no way I was going to get more in debt.

IFP and Weeklong Theatrical Release

Anderson: I was thinking theatrical was out of the question. After we screened at the Brooklyn Film Festival, I talked to some theaters, and basically I would have to pay $11-10,000 of my own money to do a theatrical release. Sure, you would get some return from the tickets at the door, but I didn’t have the resources to put that in. Where I was at financially, there’s no way I could invest more.

When this possibility through Filmwax came to do a run at reRun with the IFP, it was amazing. All of the sudden, I didn’t have to pay and I got a small amount of money from it, which I can then put into promotion, postcards, posters, and assistance.

This IFP Filmmaker’s reRun has been phenomenal. I had no idea what a ticket to broader visibility it was going to be. News outlets have a policy of only if you’ve been in a theater for seven consecutive days, you will get reviewed. I would have never gotten reviews in the New York Times, Variety, Bloomberg News, and an interview on WNYC with the Brian Lehrer show if it wasn’t for the IFP. I cannot tell you how many people listened to the Brian Lehrer show, and came to reRun because they heard me and Allison on the radio.

This new programming deal that IFP has with reRun is amazing for filmmakers; it’s a huge opportunity. There’s a link on the IFP website that says apply to have your work shown at reRun. I would encourage people to do it. It opened up a world of possibilities for us. I don’t know where it’s going to lead.

What’s Next

Anderson: One of the things I’m really excited about is audience screenings, partnering with other cities. The series Brooklyn Reconstructed has gone to Oakland, partnering with the Broaklyn Film & Theater Company, which includes local films from Oakland all about gentrification, displacement, land use, and development. It’s creating this rich conversation between Oakland and Brooklyn about the similarities and differences between what’s happening in those cities. I think there’s a lot to be done not only within Brooklyn or Oakland, but connecting from city to city. I’ve been hearing from Philly, Cleveland, Baltimore, DC, and Chicago. There’s no end to the interest. I keep hearing from people.

It’s a local, national, and global problem at the same time. People recognize that. The same pressures are happening in cities everywhere.

My Brooklyn Official Website »
My Brooklyn Return Engagement at the reRun Theater (January 25 – Februrary 3, 2013) »

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Shannon Carroll
Shannon Carroll
Shannon is the Digital Community Associate in POV’s Digital department. Follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter @shannon_carroll.