Make it Snappy: Redhouse and Gifford bring back PBS documentarian

PBS filmmaker Harry Wiland and Onondgaga Nation chief Oren Lyons at Onondaga Lake on July 26th. Lyons will be featured in a segment profiling Syracuse in the 2011 PBS series, "Building Healthy Cities." Photo courtesy Gifford Foundation, used with permission.

Filmmaker Harry Wiland and his producing partner Dale Bell first learned about Syracuse when the Gifford Foundation asked to include their hour-long film, "Philadelphia: The Holy Experiment," in their "What If ?" Film Series at Redhouse Arts Center this past spring.

"We asked him if he'd waive his fee and explained what we're trying to do here," said Gifford's Executive Director Kathy Goldfarb-Findling after a third screening Wednesday night at Redhouse. "He said sure. Then he decided to come and document what's happening here."

But let's go back. The "What If ?" Film Series occurred when Gifford and Redhouse teamed up to screen three films about community-based urban innovation over five sessions from late March to mid-May. After each, audiences discussed the lessons of Boston, Philadelphia and five other US cities. The Philadelphia film -- part of the "Edens Lost and Found" series on PBS in 2006, which also explores similar efforts in Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, and has a companion book -- screened twice. The sessions were packed and the conversations long and lively.

Last Wednesday night, Erie Canal Museum curator Dan Ward said, "I've seen this film like five times now and each time I see something new."

"The Holy Experiment" traces the founding, decline and recovery of the "city of brotherly love," narrated by actor David Morse, who lives there. The Philadelphia Horticultural Society started Philadelphia Green in the 1970s, a project that uses the $1 million profit from their annual Flower Show to turn vacant lots in gardens. In 1993, PHS added a parks program. Doris Gwaltney, lifelong West Philly resident, chronicles how she and her neighbors then saved the historic four-acre Carroll Park. Ed Elliss tells the story of the Belgrade St. Park and Garden, and Doris Brown has hers about Norris Square Park. To qualify for PHS support, a project has to demonstrate that 85 percent of the neighborhood supports it. Said Elliss, "I had to learn to talk to my neighbors."

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