CROWN HEIGHTS — Four young Crown Heights filmmakers have made a new documentary short that takes an intimate look at the neighborhood's Hasidic Jewish and West Indian communities — and it was shot largely using Google Glass.
"We’ve captured a huge range of footage, a huge range of content, places I never thought I'd go or get to see," said filmmaker Hannah Roodman, 23, the eldest member of the four-person team behind the project.
"We were in a Caribbean church a few weeks ago and the minister wore Google Glass while he was preaching. You could see his congregation through his eyes."
Project 2x1, named for the 2 mile by 1 mile dimensions of the neighborhood, began when Crown Heights native Mendy Seldowitz, 20, was chosen earlier this year as a Google Glass Explorer — a designated person to test the high-tech glasses with a built-in computer. Seldowitz asked for help with the film, which contrasts rituals and daily life in the neighboring Chabad and Caribbean communities. He found Roodman, a newcomer to the neighborhood, who in turn recruited Ben Millstein and Celso White, both 23.
With the help of neighborhood volunteers, the team was able to capture rites and rituals as varied as weddings and barbecues, the raucous West Indian Day parade and the somber atonement ritual of kaparot that precedes Yom Kippur, during which thousands of chickens are slaughtered and their meat is donated to hungry families.
"The relationship has been documented, but the stories that we’re getting are really an inside look into the community," White said. "We said hey, we love your story, would you mind showing us?"
The team said the technology gave them unprecedented access to events usually reserved for insiders.
"When you come in as a documentary film maker, you’re on one side and [your subject's] on the other side," Millstein said. "Once they put on Google Glass and saw filmmaking from their own perspective, they really understood it."
Google Glass is an ideal way to shoot film, Millstein said.
"The head acts as a natural steady cam," the filmmaker explained. "You can hear their voice, you can see their hands as they go about their daily activities. It’s like being inside somebody’s head."
The group said they hope that level of intimacy will help viewers identify with subjects who can seem extremely different to outsiders.
"When [Hasidim] are watching the West Indian Day parade and saying, 'wow, that’s crazy,' and then they watch their own parade, they're not only looking at the outside world, but looking in and recognizing each other," said Seldowitz, who grew up in the heart of Hasidic Crown Heights.
The fledgling filmmakers launched a Kickstarter campaign in the hope of being able to debut their short documentary later this fall. They also created an interactive map of the neighborhood intended to attract potential visitors.
"If we get people to see a film and then explore it interactively, they're more likely to come to Crown Heights to see it for themselves," White said. "That’s one of the goals of the film, to get people here in Crown Heights."