Tag Archives: Featured

Cinema Verite: The Real Stars Aren’t on the Screen, They’re in the Seats

by Devin Chicras

Fade in: Interior, Skyway VFW, late July. West Hill residents pour single file into the basement for a community meeting called to address the growing concern for public safety in the wake of a recent spike in gun violence – including one memorable incident where two groups exchanged dozens of rounds across the main street, injuring six.

One woman is overheard mentioning “it’s a good thing it’s still light outside, or I wouldn’t have came. Not safe to be out here at night”. Older gentleman over her right shoulder nods in agreement.

They’re not alone. While the level of violence was analogous to many other surrounding areas, many residents and businesses had seriously considered moving out of the area, the tension and anxiety was palpable and online discussion was exploding. On top of an already difficult situation, we had just lost our beloved Storefront Deputy, someone many looked up to and regarded as a change maker in our community with his compassionate community policing model. He had given us hope, and now many felt lost.

If you had watched the news coverage of the meeting you would have assumed that it was entirely about how devastated the community was about Deputy Barnes’ departure. What you didn’t see was that the majority of the event was actually dedicated to brainstorming solutions to crime, and specifically, gun violence among youths. What the cameras didn’t catch was the incredible energy, empathy and problem solving that our neighbors brought to the meeting. Some mentioned that they wanted to do something for their community, but they seemed to be waiting for some direction.

I was in the crowd that night. I didn’t have a grand solution to end the violence. As a board member of the nonprofit, volunteer-run West Hill Community Association (WHCA) I felt inclined to focus on the positive side of our neighborhood and shared a list of opportunities for folks to get involved and contribute to a safer, more vibrant neighborhood – from work parties, annual cleanups and ways to get connected to neighbors, to an upcoming event called Skyway Outdoor Cinema.

I (among others) made a similar speech at an earlier WHCA meeting immediately following the police captain’s update on the recent major shooting (and neighbors asking what they could do about it) but the camera also stopped rolling after they had gotten the footage they came for, lest they complicate their neat paradigm of Skyway as lawless, crime-ridden area – a stigma perpetuated by the media which has not only been embedded in the consciousness of those that do not dare visit Skyway for fear of their own safety, but also in that of our very own neighbors. It breeds mistrust and serves to further isolate an area that already suffers from a severe lack of resources due to its unincorporated status and creates major challenges in building unity and expanding communication within our richly diverse, wonderfully unique neighborhood.

Two days after that public safety meeting – just two days after hearing folks say they wouldn’t want to be caught on the streets after dark – the 14th season of Skyway Outdoor Cinema kicked off behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Avenue South to an all time record crowd.

Myself and Mary Goebel served as the two lone volunteer organizers of WHCA’s Skyway Outdoor Cinema, and we’d worked all year, but still SOC2had much to do just before the opening day. The majority of expected funding had fallen through, and the timing couldn’t have been worse as by last season we had already doubled the crowds with a complete re-brand, expanded marketing efforts and a comprehensive overhaul of the whole event. Our ultimate goal was to continue making the event sustainable by securing sponsors and purchasing our own equipment, rather than renting.

To that end, we decided that we needed our own A/V equipment. While a grant from King County covered a bit less than half of an all-in-one unit we intended to buy, we were still about $4k short. So we turned to the community. We started an Indiegogo campaign, uploaded a silly but heartfelt video and put our fate in the hands of our neighbors. We didn’t have much money available to rent equipment, so the stakes were high. We received an incredible response, and in less than a month, we surpassed our goal by a total of 9%, thanks to some amazingly generous folks.

Similarly, calls for volunteers were met with responses from some of the kindest, most hard-working folks I’ve ever met.

As the emcee for the event, I needed some impromptu volunteers to help raffle off prizes after the film. The request had barely finished transferring from the mic to the speakers when a sea of tiny hands shot up. I quickly selected a group of children at random – not immediately realizing that some couldn’t have been much older than six or seven – to help hold the prizes up, spin the raffle drum, draw tickets and call out numbers over the microphone in front of hundreds of people. I have rarely seen the level of professionalism shown by these tiny humans displayed by fully grown adults. I’ve now repeated the same process over three nights with a completely different group of kids each time, with the same exact result.

We had no idea how many people would show up after seeing all of those negative news stories. We didn’t expect 300 attendees, from babies to seniors, to show up at a 7-Eleven in Skyway and stay until 11pm on a Friday night in August. And we certainly didn’t expect whole families to flock to Skyway of all places from Redmond, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way and beyond.

While there may be some people that are quick to write us off, we are a community of leaders and compassionate supporters, who are simply searching for an opportunity to get involved. Something special is happening here in Skyway, and I think it’s only getting started.

——

Skyway Outdoor Cinema is showing “Frozen” for its final event of the season is this Friday, 8/22 behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Ave. S. & 76th Ave. S. Preshow fun runs from 8-9pm, with a free prize wheel, silly photo booth featuring Olaf the snowman made out of balloons and a free ticket for the raffle after the film. Concessions range from 50-75¢, so bring all the change in your couch cushions. Don’t forget to bring your own chair, beanbag, blanket or picnic table. Princess costume optional.

Facebook.com/SkywayOutdoorCinema

MyWestHill.org/SOC

Skyway Breaks Ground on New Library

Skyway_Library_Groundbreaking_1Community members celebrated the Skyway Library groundbreaking last Wednesday afternoon Wednesday, July 9. As the crowd gathered, 25 children from the Skyway Boys & Girls Club’s summer music program entertained the crowd with songs.

KCLS Interim Director Julie Acteson welcomed the community to the event to celebrate the start of construction for the new 8,000 square foot library.

“The new library will be within walking distance from the Boys & Girls Club, Dimmitt middle school and several elementary schools,” said King County Library System (KCLS) Interim Director Julie Acteson.

A number of dignitaries addressed the crowd, including KCLS Board Trustee Jessica Bonebright, Friends of Skyway Library President Theresa McLean, West Hill Community Association President Bill Bowden, King County Sheriff’s Office Captain Ted Boe and King County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brian Barnes.

“We appreciate the voters in the community who supported this project,” said KCLS Board Trustee Jessica Bonebright. “This is going to be a great resource for the community.”

Project architect Matt Aalfs highlighted the design process, which incorporated input from the community. He said the new building will have almost twice the space, materials and computers.

“We tried to make a building that’s beautiful, that’s inspirational and it feels open and welcoming. We met with (community members) here,and thought a lot about the kids who live here who might need a place to go. We wanted them to feel comfortable and safe here, with whatever it is they need.” Aalfs said.

With gold shovels in hand, local dignitaries were joined by children with small shovels to break ground. “This Space is going to be great.” Said West Hill Community Association President Bill Bowden. “It’s just an awesome centerpiece for revitalizing the community!”

Special thanks to the King County Library System for assistance with this article

The Movies Come To Skyway

by Marcus Harrison Green

Fans express their affection for the Skyway Outdoor Cinema.
Fans express their affection for the Skyway Outdoor Cinema.

If the image of neighbors camped outside under starlit sky – sprawled over transplanted home furnishings while gorging on popcorn, and participating in a collective chorus of oohs and awes conducted by a recent Hollywood blockbuster – seems a sight capable only in one of the idiosyncratic enclaves belonging to the northern end of our fair city, then you may want to watch your step for stray shards of shattered assumptions, as South Seattle readies for its own brand of outdoor film fun.

Later this summer, the Skyway neighborhood will play host to the community run – and eponymously titled- Skyway Outdoor Cinema (SOC) – a cinema series that will commence August 1st – in the U.S. Bank parking lot behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Avenue and 76th – with a showing of Despicable Me 2, and run three successive Fridays thereafter – finishing up August 22nd with Frozen.

Stewarded for over a decade by the volunteer operated West Hill Community Association (WHCA) – previously known as the West Hill Community Council (WHCC) – SOC was originally founded to provide a free, family oriented event that served as a much needed opportunity for engagement amongst community members.

A series of obstacles, including the lack of a thriving business district from which to draw sponsors, the challenge of uniting a disparate fan base and coordinating extensive fundraising efforts led to a reliance on grant funds to maintain a basic level of operation for the first thirteen seasons of the event.

With King County dissolving Unincorporated Area Councils in 2011 in response to budgetary concerns – resulting in a loss of guaranteed annual funding for the WHCC and a forced reorganization resulting in the newly rebranded WHCA – plus dwindling available grant funds, SOC decided to take a new approach. The new strategy, begun last season, is one that uses design and social media to increase its connection with fans and a more sustainable approach to its operating budget. By harnessing the power of its fans with crowdfunding and making smart purchases that eliminated the need to rent expensive equipment year after year – reducing basic operating costs- the event added a higher level of stability and increased its potential for growth.

Now in its second phase of life, the organizers of the open air cinema have redoubled their efforts in utilizing the event to galvanize the entire West Hill Community – which includes the neighborhoods of Skyway, Lakeridge, Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill, Earlington, Hilltop, Panorama View, and Skycrest – providing a centralized gathering locale that functions as an incubator of community, and that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Something that – according to locals – has been long overdue in the area.

“I think everyone is really tired of Skyway getting such a bad rap. Most people simply absorb what they hear on the news, but those assumptions really aren’t rooted and fact and experience. I think that not only hurts our image outside of our community, but I think it affects us as neighbors as well. We want to provide a fun, free, safe family environment for people to really learn what their community’s all about – I think we deserve that.” said Devin Chicras, WHCA board member and co-organizer of the cinema – in addition to moonlighting as the event’s Master of Ceremonies, Diligent Custodian, Technical Support, and Amiable Attendant Greeter during its film screenings.

With that goal in mind, organizers have made great strides in improving their marketing efforts to attract a much larger swath of the community. Chicras, along with co-organizer Mary Goebel, have worked hard on implementing the new strategy for SOC, which included heavily promoting the event on social media platforms and improving visitors’ experience at every level from engaging pre-show entertainment to free raffle prizes and keeping all concession items under a dollar.

By all measures, these new efforts appear to be working, as not only did attendance double last year, but the event has also enticed people from as far away as Burien and Des Moines to spend their Friday nights in Skyway.

Not bad for an area whose own residents, not all that long ago, barely wanted to set foot on its pavement. “It’s incredible to see this little parking lot in Skyway fill up with all these folks, having fun, talking to their neighbors, eating popcorn or having Domino’s delivered to them while seated on lawn chairs, detached minivan seats, or sprawled out picnic-style on a blanket. These are the people you see sometimes walking down the street, in the store, waiting at the bus stop. And now they’re here, like one big family. At 10pm behind a 7-Eleven in Skyway. It’s truly surreal, and completely inspiring.” Says Chicras.

Communal appreciation could not have come at a better time, as in the ensuing years since losing the majority of its funding, the event has had to rely more heavily on contributions from those living around the area. A dependency that appears quite secure, as the cinema was recently able to purchase a brand new audiovisual system, directly as a result of local generosity.

Costing a little under $7000, The A/V system – which will allow for a larger film projection, along with improved sound and picture quality more in line with traditional cinematic experiences – seemed out of reach for event organizers, as they received only a $3000 Community Engagement Grant from King County towards its purchase. Unsure of how they would make up the difference Chicras and Goebel turned to the community via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

“We only needed $3975 and ended up getting $4320! We were absolutely blown away by the generosity of our community.” said Chicras. The additional funds will be used to supplement SOC’s already meager budget, as it has never turned a profit, nor sought to – its primary mission remaining to build connections between residents. “We’re doing our best to make sure each and every person feels like being in that parking lot with their neighbors and friends is exactly where they should be on a Friday night in August.”

That is believed to be mission accomplished according to Sherrie Vineyard – who has attended the cinema since its inception.

“It gives (Skyway residents) four Friday nights each summer to really connect with our families and neighbors, and share what we’re about as a community. Last year, they held a raffle for school supply filled backpacks, and I was lucky enough to win one. That backpack went to a little boy who had a mom with no idea of how she was going to get supplies for him. The Skyway Outdoor Cinema does more than impact the lives of the community for four weeks each summer. They impact lives for years to come with their generosity and warm hearts.”

Skyway Outdoor Cinema runs August 1st (Despicable Me 2), 8th (The Lego Movie), 15th (Gravity) and 22nd (Frozen). Pre-show entertainment starts at 8pm, with the film at 9pm. Visit their website (MyWestHill.org/SOC) and Facebook Page (Facebook.com/SkywayOutdoorCinema) for more information.

Additional thanks to Devin Chicras for assisting with this article.