Documentary on Rust Belt renewal focuses on residents' resilience
July 20, 2012 4:00 AM
Van Manson II/Saving Cities Ltd.
Pittsburgh is featured in the movie "Red, White & Blueprints," which portrays the resilience of the people bringing their communities back. Above, a mural in Larimer inspires many.
Van Manson II/Saving Cities Ltd.
In Pittsburgh, a backyard barbeque was organized for filmmaker Jack Storey and his crew by Abe Taleb of ReWork, an employment company in Larimer.
By Ann Belser Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Jack Storey began looking for the blueprint on economic recovery in the Rust Belt, he found it was drawn by the hopes and dreams of the people who remained when industry left.
Mr. Storey is now on leave from his job at the Northeast Shores Development Corp., a local community development agency in Cleveland, to make a documentary about the people bringing back Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and St. Louis.
The movie "Red, White & Blueprints" is still in production. Since he started shooting it in 2011, the story has changed from a tale of cities and their recovery to one of the resilience of the people bringing those communities back.
Mr. Storey said he decided to focus on people running for-profit businesses that are improving the communities around them.
In St. Louis, he talked to Randy and Jeff Vines, 34-year-old twins who co-own STL-Style, a T-shirt shop that emphasizes community engagement. The T-shirts are neighborhood specific, for St. Louis places such as Benton Park, Shaw, Old North and Lafayette.
The brothers also were part of organizing Group Hug St. Louis, a community event that attracted 300 people in its first year to take pictures of themselves hugging something they love in St. Louis. The winning picture -- a shot of a little girl hugging a fountain -- was chosen by a vote of the entrants.
Mr. Storey said he was at first skeptical of the Group Hug concept, but when it came together and he filmed the final party, it was an inspirational and uplifting event filled with people who truly cared about their city.
"One hundred years ago, it was the fourth biggest city in the country," Randy Vines said. "It has this amazing architecture; this red brick city that is still here after all these years."
With his T-shirts ("You can't spell STYLE without STL" and "Meet me in St. Louis") he is encouraging a new spirit of St. Louis.
"We're selling more than T-shirts. We're selling a passion for the city," he said.
In Pittsburgh, the story changes from selling civic pride to using skills to engage in the betterment of the city.
Abe Taleb is Mr. Storey's Pittsburgh pointman. Mr. Taleb is the managing partner in charge of operations for ReWork, a Larimer-based employment firm.
"We provide talent for the 'impact sector,'" said Mr. Taleb, 25, of North Point Breeze. The firm finds people jobs with nonprofits and so-called social enterprise companies, which are for-profit companies that help fund related nonprofits. ReWork also helps find workers needed for corporate social accountability departments.
When Mr. Storey was filming in Pittsburgh, Mr. Taleb organized a backyard barbecue. There, guest after guest sat down in front of the camera to be interviewed about the city and what they are doing to help in its revival.
Mr. Taleb maintains it is easier to start a new company in the Rust Belt than it is elsewhere in the country. "In all of the Rust Belt cities, there's such a demand for innovation, you can get the access you need," he said.
He said he has regular contact with members of city council and has even hung out at a ball game with the mayor, something that would never be possible for a young businessman in New York or Los Angeles.
"Doing those porch sessions in Pittsburgh instilled me with a great deal of hope," Mr. Storey said. "People were resilient. People are amazing."
In all five of the Rust Belt cities on which Mr. Storey is focusing, he kept finding the same sense in the people: they felt that while the cities may have had economic trouble, the communities would recover.
He raised money for the film through grants from community groups and on Kickstarter, an Internet fundraising site that provided about $6,000.
The film is in the editing process, and he hopes to have it ready for screening next year.
"You feel a very strong regional pride," he said. "There's a real Rust-Beltian pride."