When I first met Chris Ivey several years ago, he was getting ready to launch his first film in a series he was calling "East of Liberty." It was ambitious -- he was chronicling the changes of one of the city's biggest and most complicated neighborhoods.
He saw just how complicated it was as he embarked on a project for East Liberty Development Inc., a successful non-profit that has guided East Liberty's renewal.
ELDI hired him to film an outdoor celebration of new housing. The city's suits and neighborhood movers and shakers and some nearby residents turned out. The event's turning point, for Chris, 36, and for a lot of people who had lived in the doomed high-rises, was a paintball attack on East Mall, a high-rise that was going to be razed. Chris sensed discontent among residents during the fun people were having vandalizing what had been their home.
From that point, Chris zagged in a direction of his own: Chronicling the changes in East Liberty as seen through the eyes of its most troubled residents -- displaced poor people, youth and young men of whom he says "They were not born to be drug dealers." Many people were alarmed at the changing face of the neighborhood.
He followed his first film, "East of Liberty: A Story of Good Intentions," with "East of Liberty: The Fear of Us." It dealt with people "who were feeling left out of the redevelopment loop." The community development group cast a wide net to get neighbors involved in the planning, but a lot of people -- those who fall through the proverbial cracks -- most certainly fall through the mesh of a net.
Chris is holding a fund raiser tomorrow night, Monday Feb. 23, at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., to pay for making his fourth film as he is finishing his third, "A Community Without." The suggested donation is $25.
"Fear of Us" will show at 7 p.m. for $5; doors open at 6 p.m. A question-and-answer session afterward will be filmed for use in future films. The fund-raiser will include scenes from upcoming films, and copies of the first two chapters of "East of Liberty" DVDs will be on sale for $75 each.
Chris said the Q-and-As are "a good way of keeping up the dialogue continued to spur more discussions and actions [for] true community development."
"Race, class, ownership, crime and social problems are all still issues," he said when we talked today. "The fourth film, 'In Unliveable Times' will focus on the youth culture, from the point of view of youth who are not experiencing renewal. "The gang culture is still thriving" in spite of the "new look" of East Liberty, he said. "A lot of kids talk about their goals, and it's all about survival."
Aside from the "East of Liberty" series, he is also working on a North Side documentary called "The Big Gamble," about the impact the new casino may have on that neighborhood's most troubled people.