NEWARK, Ohio—The past few months have been an eye-opening experience for a few teens in the Newark High School Closing the Achievement Gap (CTAG) program. Eight of these young people have written, directed and filmed short movies about topics that are near and dear to their hearts. With the support of Project Main Street, a Newark community-strengthening initiative, Ciara Wiseman interviewed pregnant teens and teen moms for a thoughtful documentary, titled “Growing Bigger;” Shyanne Decker and Atlanta Thomas created a motivational film about students and teachers and the inspirations that pass between them; and in “Bike Life” Drew Kelley and Blake McKee explore BMX biking, which they see as the truest expression of themselves. These short films are a highlight of the Newark Community Film Festival, which will take place on Wednesday, May 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Midland Theatre (36 N. Park Place), and will be followed by a reception at the Sparta Restaurant. The film festival is free and open to the public.
The festival’s feature film, “Sparta on Main,” is a 30-minute documentary about the remarkable Newark restaurant and the community activity, organization and revitalization efforts that are taking place there. It features interviews with community members from all walks of life, including Chris Ramsey, owner of Sparta, and Denison University President Adam Weinberg. The interviews are part of a narrative that touches on many of the facets of community-building that are taking place in Newark.
Ramsey and Stephen Fowler, a former economic development director for Newark, have joined forces to create Project Main Street, a non-profit partnership, which gathers and convenes resources, often at the restaurant, to positively transform Newark through several initiatives. The Newark Community Film Festival is one aspect of that program.
“Project Main Street is all about helping to rebuild and transform Newark through relationships between students, families, businesses, individuals—everyone can be a resource in building a better place for all of us,” says Ramsey.
“We are creating partnerships around several key areas, including housing, job training, healthy food and business development,” says Fowler.
The Newark Community Film Festival is a good example of how Project Main Street was able to bring together local talents to create a meaningful project for the community. “We’re especially grateful and thankful for the talents of Doug Swift; who directed and edited Sparta on Main, Jace Delgado, who provided the outstanding photography; and Travis DeFraites, who graduated from Denison University last year and is using his degree in cinema to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Ramsey.
“A community is healthy and it can grow when it fosters healthy relationships that span across traditional boundaries,” says Swift. “With the film Sparta on Main, we wanted to show how that is already happening in the restaurant.”
In addition to their work on Sparta on Main, Swift and DeFraites led the CTAG students through the complex processes of filmmaking, including image composition, interviewing techniques, and approaches to filming and editing, to tell strong and cohesive stories. The students were encouraged to focus on topics that had significance to them personally.
BMX riding “isn’t about hoodlums riding their bike where they’re not supposed to,” say Kelly and McKee. “We’re not harmful. We just like to ride.”