SJNN Fellow Ahmed Hamad began working on the “Block by Block” film during the first cycle of the SJNN fellowship (spring-summer 2014). Below, Ahmed answers a few questions about the film trailer and where the project will go in the future.
Question: How do you describe the film?
“Block by Block: Laramie and Ferdinand” is a short documentary that looks at the aftermath of the drug war policy on one block in the city of Chicago. My goal is to expose the systematic disorders that lead the block to the current situation. It goes in depth into the lives of the residents of the 5200 of West Ferdinand and the surrounding blocks. Like many other blocks drugs and the war on drugs have crippled the lives of the residents. I wanted to get to know their personal experiences and struggles as a microcosm of the larger picture.
My intention is to show that war on drugs is perpetuating a cycle of violence within the community, families, and individuals. If you put a man in jail for 17 years and leave their son at home to be raised by a single mother in poverty, its not surprising that this child may leave home, looking for love and male role models on the street.
The film is not meant to exploit people, but rather give them a voice.
Question: Why do you think people opened up to you about their stories?
Drugs and the war on drugs have caused a lot of social difficulties in the community. Almost every other house is abandoned on the block, there are a lot of felons who can’t work, and there is general a lack of jobs on the West Side even for non-felons.
It takes a large amount of trust and vulnerability for people to speak out. Surprisingly, the residents of the block were wiling to speak because they needed help. A lot of them spoke about the way the city of Chicago treats the West Side and how little support is given to them. There is a lot of neglect and that seemed to be the motivation for people to talk to me on camera.
Question: What is your personal connection to the issues happening on this block?
I grew up in Gaza where there was a lot of violence that was happening around me in my hometown. I know what it is like to live in fear and not feel safe in your own home. In my experience, it was all caused by the conflict and the militarized Israeli occupation. Yet violence, regardless of the reason, affects the entire environment regardless of the community. Since I moved to Chicago, I’ve been trying to draw the parallels the discrimination and the systematic disorders that were imposed on Palestinians and people of color in Chicago as a filmmaker.
A war on drugs in Chicago and a war on terror in Palestine, both are causing the same destruction on the lives of innocent people. Gaza Strip was put under a blockade since 2007, since then drugs have been getting smuggled heavily into the strip and a lot of young men are self medicating themselves, and getting addicted to drugs to survive very difficult circumstances.
Question: Where do you see the project going in the future?
My plan is to go back to my hometown in Gaza and make a short film on one block there, and eventually travel with the project and do stories on blocks all over the world to show the aftermath of wars. My goal is to show what is universal. We are connected and you can’t present these subjects to people without them somehow feeling connected to what’s going on.