Camera crews and trouble come hand-in-hand in Dartmouth North. Reporters swoop in chasing the day's headlines, whether they're gunshots, beatings or robberies. But one group of locals decided they were sick of outsiders focussing on the negative. With the guidance of their mentor, director Ariella Pahlke, and support of United Way, nine novice filmmakers and Dartmouth North locals hit the streets armed with video cameras. `
"We tried to get to the heart of things and we had a lot of fascinating discussions," says Pahlke of the Dartmouth North Film Project. Gaining locals' trust was tricky at first, though. "When we showed up and started filming in Pinecrest, people were suddenly not on their porches anymore. They weren't on the street," Pahlke recalls.
"We had to explain to them, 'We're not here to make trouble. We're not trying to blacken your eyes any worse than they already are in the media, We're here just to talk to you as neighbours," adds participant Will Naylor.
The filmmakers---Naylor, Melissa Dawn Glenn, René Welsh, Doug Glenn, Andrew Curran, Ruth Dorey, John Cox, Mike Burgess and Susanne Preeper---broke into groups to create Pinecrest, Taking Action and Back Then.... "I didn't know if I'd be qualified," says Naylor, a substitute teacher. "I thought 'I don't have any experience.'"
Naylor's knack for filmmaking developed quickly. His group's film, Pinecrest, confronts the stigma attached to Pinecrest Drive. A young father featured in the film recalls the many gunshots and assaults that transpired near his home. "Down here, this guy got stomped, got beat up and he lay here until the morning," he recounts. It's crushing when he says "that's the way it is," softly, with a hint of defeat.
Naylor blames his neighbourhood's ailments partly on bad planning. Apartment complexes attract a transient population, not people who want to settle down. That's "not a healthy kind of community," he says.
But you find inspiration in surprising places: A man shows his north end Dartmouth pride, lifting his shirt to display the motto "NED Unpredictable" tattooed on his back; Peter, the neighbourhood bottle collector, tells us he's happy living in Pinecrest; landlord Mike Burgess discusses working with tenants to make the community safer and the growing number of curtains in windows is a sign people are taking pride in their homes.
Taking Action focuses on grassroots initiatives, such as a single mother organizing neighbourhood trash clean-ups. But it can be hard to move forward when so much of your past is forgotten---development has literally crushed parts of north Dartmouth's history. In Back Then..., an elderly man returns home to search for the initials he and his friends carved into a rock as kids. He finds the spot, but his childhood woods are now a sea of gravel and identical beige apartment blocks.
With little on Dartmouth North in the public archives, Back Then... fills in the gaps. Older locals share memories of a Dartmouth unrecognizable today: children chase lobsters in a sparkling clean harbour, a bustling Mi'kmaq community thrives. The film makes you want to spend more time chatting up the locals, because as Naylor points out, "people don't realize the rest of the story."