Words by Nneka Samuel
“This film is for anyone who wants to challenge themselves to look outside the world they know,” says Project 2×1 cofounder, Mendy Seldowitz, in the trailer for the short documentary film of the same name. Partially shot on Google Glass, Project 2×1 presents a day in the life of West Indian and Hasidic residents of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The two communities have been living side by side in a 2 mile by 1 mile radius for nearly 70 years and yet have remained somewhat isolated. The film, made by a group of young artists, seeks to break that barrier by encouraging residents to not only respect the beauty in diversity but spark conversation and engage in a more collective way.
The film’s director, Hannah Roodman, and her team gave Google Glasses to willing participants to document their daily lives from a first person point of view. People like Tracey Reed, a Rastafarian business owner and Rivkah Schack, the head of a Jewish school. Both are representations of a city celebrated for its cultural and ethnic diversity; a melting pot steeped in history.
The origins of the West Indian Crown Heights community dates back to the early 20th century. Currently, Crown Heights boasts a nearly 75% Black population, many of whom have Caribbean ties. The area’s annual West Indian Parade alone draws crowds upwards of 1 million people. Crown Heights is also home to the worldwide headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish movement, which dates back to the early 1940’s.
As a result of Project 2×1, some of the film’s participants have recognized a more vibrant cultural exchange, one that decreases complacency and lessens intimidation. Whether these notions are learned or taught, they are perhaps remnants of a time not long past. In August of 1991, a motorcade carrying the Lubavitch Rabbi accidentally struck and killed Gavin Cato, a 7-year-old son of Guyanese immigrants. In response to Cato’s death and fueled by their belief that Hasidics received preferential treatment in the neighborhood from the police, black residents rioted for three days. One Hasidic man was killed.
This moment in time, however, does not define Crown Heights. The area is ever-evolving and ever-changing, thanks now in large part to gentrification. But community partnership and neighborhood unity remain at the heart of Project 2×1. Since its December 2013 release, Project 2×1 has been shown at several festivals and events, including the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival. The response, especially between the West Indian and Hasidic Crown Heights population, has been largely positive and the film continues to garner media attention. The filmmakers encourage interactive screenings and the Project 2×1 website provides links for those that would like to host their own screenings of the film.