06 November, 2009

From Salt to Biddeford, Maine

Salt ended, I stayed in Portland and was granted a fellowship by Heart of Biddeford along with two Salt photography alums, Anna Schechter and Claire Houston, to do a documentary storytelling project in Biddeford, Maine, an old mill town about twenty minutes south of Portland. Heart of Biddeford had received a grant from the Orton Family Foundation to do a two-year town planning and revitalization project. Orton's approach to town planning is a bit different: rather than a few guys in an office calling the shots, Orton strives to involve all factions of the community in decision making about the town's future. It's town planning from the ground up.

How do two photographers and a radio producer figure into that equation? Our task was develop a documentary project highlighting the diverse communities and demographic groups of Biddeford and their shared values and aspirations for the town's future. This, in turn--the logic was--would foster a greater sense of understanding and togetherness amongst the communities. We entitled our project, Heartworks: Bringing Communities Together through Storytelling in Biddeford, Maine. We presented some of our early work at the North Dam Mill as part of Biddeford's July Art Walk. Here's an article in one of the local papers about our project and the show.

Throughout the three-month fellowship, from June to October, we produced a series of mini-stories, which eventually became the building blocks for a thirty-eight minute final multimedia piece. The final piece unfolds in chapters, starting with Biddeford's working mill past, and concluding with the town's burgeoning arts scene and the redevelopment of Biddeford's mills. We tell the stories of the fifteen old men who meet every night at 6 PM at Burger King for a cup of coffee and conversation; of a boxing club that can't even afford a sign, where underprivileged youth from Biddeford and beyond can find positive role models--and get a workout; of Biddeford Pool, a wealthy coastal community and "hidden treasure" on the edge of Biddeford; of Jane and Breece Sleeper, and their two children India and Breece Jr., and much more... It was a beast to produce and required a lot of sleepless nights, but we're pretty happy with the outcome. Here's a taste (quite literally):

We presented our final piece on October 15th at the Hog Farm Studio--a new music venue on Main Street in Biddeford--before an audience of more than one hundred from all corners of Biddeford. Kyle and Sharon from the Palace Diner were there, the kids from the boxing club, the Sleeper family, Dan--the guy who makes frothy lattes at Buzz coffee shop at the North Dam Mill--and my parents even surprised me with a visit from Rhode Island. Here's a nice writeup on the Orton site about the show. It was a powerful scene to behold, and I have to hope our piece sparks some positive dialog in Biddeford about the town's future. I would do do it again in another town. Maybe I will...