The Philadelphia Film Society’s Movies on the Block (MoB) program began last year as a way to use the unifying power of independent cinema to spotlight community issues, as well as to encourage linkage among citizens and regional leaders in different locales across the city. Already in the midst of its second annual run of screenings, it remains the perfect opportunity for Penn students to breach their self–seclusion and experience Philadelphia neighborhoods from within, while meeting representatives from local organizations always in need of volunteer support.

Travis Trew, a PFS Programming Assistant, sees the MoB program as an ideal way to serve city residents who don’t patronize the Prince and Roxy theaters or the Philadelphia Film Festival.

“The interest was in broadening film society’s initiative to bring film to a larger audience throughout Philadelphia,” he explains. “Communities that we did choose had great applications and a really clear vision of what they wanted the event to look like,” and also, “We saw the need for this kind of programming in these communities because there wasn’t as extensive of an access to film.”

This is where their selection process comes in. Neighborhoods were chosen through a combination of a public application and information from CultureBlocks, a Philadelphia database that provides information about a neighborhood’s cultural resources, such as community arts organizations and theaters. PFS strove to select areas of Philadelphia where the interest and imagination were present, but the creative support and funding were lacking.

At the selection of each neighborhood, PFS provided a “menu” to the area’s partners based on the themes and feedback they had discussed in their applications. Trew explains that PFS attempted to meet the middle ground between showcasing a film that had not enjoyed wide success with speaking to the direct concerns of a community, so that both PFS’ and the community organizations’ objectives were met.

This year’s crop of films aspires to do just that, to inform as well as entertain. Kingsessing has selected Ernest and Celestine, a French animated story about a bear and a mouse who learn how to broach difference and hate, while Juniata Park has chosen the Brazilian Boy and the World, to comment on modern adolescent identity and globalization through a boy’s searching for his father.

Each of the four free, public outdoor screenings are put on through partnerships with local educational and community advocacy groups. The selected neighborhoods have both lead and main partners who collaborate for a smooth delivery and maximum enfranchisement of community participants, some of which, like Neighborhood Bike Works in Belmont, are returning for a second year. Other involved groups include organizations like the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a health and human services nonprofit in the Juniata Park neighborhood, and the Free Library of Philadelphia in the Kingsessing area. It’s the hope of PFS that these free Movies on the Block screenings will help to both introduce residents to the organizations doing powerful work in their streets and help to encourage dialogue about community building and service.

The result of this neighborhood synergy is much richer and more dynamic than a simple outdoor movie screening, with each partnered group hosting interactive activities, performances, educational demonstrations and giveaways. Through the combined efforts of both the lead and main partners and their decisions on how to use their stipends from PFS, each neighborhood has created a wholly singular screening experience. Kingsessing has chosen to hire a DJ and face painter and organized a school supplies giveaway, community–specific attractions that the Free Library thought would draw the largest audiences, most donations, and the greatest volunteer support. And new to the program this year, PFS has partnered with Yoga on the Banks to host cost–free “Yoga on the Block” preceding each screening, in promotion of healthy and sustainable community lifestyles.

Although two of the program’s dates have passed, there’s still time to catch two more screenings:

Newbold/Point Breeze Neighborhood: Moon Man (Dir. Stephen Schesch)

Where: The Aquinas Center (1700 Fernon St.)

When: Friday, September 9 from 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Belmont/Mantua Neighborhood: Shake the Dust (Dir. Adam Sjoberg)

Where: Belmont Charter School (4030 Brown St.)

When: Saturday, September 17 from 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.


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