The F train began to pull into its final station in Coney Island. Even though I was unsure of what would happen next, I knew that I was in the right place. That afternoon I was going to film a documentary at PS 329, a school in Coney Island that had been hit by Hurricane Sandy and was now painting a mural to celebrate the community’s resilience. As I walked to the bus, I wondered what brought a shy, timid kid from the comfortable suburbs of California to travel to a neighborhood far from Lower Manhattan?
During my sophomore year, I took one of the most formational classes of my time at NYU, Sight and Sound: Documentary taught by Marco Williams. I knew this was stepping far out of my comfort zone, but I was up for the challenge. The first day of class, Marco said something I will never forget. He explained that documentary film was not about information, it was about relationships and how those relationships are illustrated through the art of filmmaking. Marco’s statement resonated with me over time, and I found there was more to the narrative films I had made in my first few semesters. I came to realize that I valued the people I was working with beyond the films we were making.
That first day out in Coney Island, I nervously picked up the camera, trying to film children, parents and teachers painting the mural. However, I found that there was a personal wall between me and those I was filming. Finally, I decided to put down my camera and pick up a paintbrush. As I painted clouds on the bright blue wall, the personal wall began to crumble to pieces. I spent the rest of the day talking to children and families. Hearing their stories, I saw that the most beautiful part of Coney Island and neighborhoods like it were the people. I discovered a community that is sometimes never found in the isolation of the suburbs, or in the rush of NYU. I saw how what Marco said was true. Relationships were not just the key to documentary filmmaking, but were the most important thing to invest in during my time at NYU.
Now that I am graduating, I plan to move to a low-income neighborhood in Vermont to work in Christian Community Development Association. There I will walk alongside my neighbors through the joys and challenges of living in a neighborhood together. Without stepping into neighborhoods like Coney Island, I would have never discovered my love of community. Talking to underclassmen that I have met this year, I invite them to experience the beauty that lies hidden in this city. I challenge them to ask not what this city can do for them, but instead what they can do to give back to the city, even if they are only here for a few years.