I waited. One day. Two days. Three days.
Not a single person had replied to my email. It was February 2016, at the height of production for my documentary film on controversies around turning Philadelphia into an energy hub. The “energy hub” plan was first floated in 2014 by Phil Rinaldi, CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, to capitalize on the abundance of Marcellus Shale natural gas in rural Pennsylvania by increasing Philadelphia’s fossil fuel infrastructure. Yet not a single proponent of the energy hub was interested in speaking to me. It seemed odd that the people who were flaunting the energy hub just a couple months ago now had their lips sealed.
These were the very companies with hundreds of millions of dollars, the best lawyers, and the largest infrastructure in Philadelphia. They instilled fear in citizens. (In one of my early interviews, after making a negative remark about Phil Rinaldi, the interviewee stopped and stared at me, making me promise to never use that footage.) There was an air of secrecy surrounding the energy hub, and that’s exactly why I wanted to make a film about it.
As a result of my experience, my perspective on Philadelphia changed completely. When I first began the project as a sophomore in January 2016, my perspective on Philadelphia was narrow; I only saw it as a symbol of independence and innovation, but never as an industrial city of the past. I didn’t know anything about social justice, environmental movements, grassroots and community activism. Having grown up in Southern California suburbs, I’d never met anyone who cared much about their city, and I doubted that Philadelphians could do much to change city plans. But as I began speaking to people and attending community events concerning the energy hub, I realized that there were many individuals who cared deeply about their city. People like Joe Minott (Clean Air Council) and David Masur (PennEnvironment) were so genuinely passionate about helping their city that their passion began to rub off on me.
Completely immersed in the energy hub debate, I abhorred Philadelphia within a few months. By May 2016, after conducting many interviews, phone calls, and watching hours of City Council hearings, I’d become sick of the energy hub proposal. To an outsider, it seemed like Philadelphia was heading in the wrong direction; I couldn’t grasp why a city with so many passionate individuals against the energy hub would still move in that direction. Immediately after final exams, I got on a plane and flew back home to California. I wanted to get away from this city.
Over the summer I finally reflected on my experiences. During the documentary filmmaking experience, everything had flown by quickly as I jumped from interview to interview. Gradually I began to understand that Philadelphia’s industrial past as a port was a part of its identity, and I accepted it as a unique factor of the city. After a hiatus, I finished the film in March 2017 with the encouragement of my former CAMRA mentor, Mariam Durrani, and support from Professor Regina Austin and Juliet Shen.
From the process of making this film, I’ve grown to become a more open-minded person. I have come to understand why Philadelphia is still attracted to the energy hub proposal, and I appreciate the invaluable time that Philadelphians have devoted to this issue. This summer I’m staying in Philadelphia to intern as a software engineer. I’m excited to learn more about this amazing city and contribute to growing its diverse economy.
Christopher Kao is a junior studying computer science and marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. He co-directed the documentary, “A City Divided: Philadelphia’s Energy Hub,” with Xiaofei Ye through the Visual Legal Advocacy seminar in the Penn Law School. Chris has directed over 50 films, including music videos, student club promo videos, corporate videos, and documentaries. You’ll often find Chris flying his drone and exploring Philadelphia on the Indego city bikes, even in 30 degree weather.
Kao, Christopher. "Ways of Engaging in Nature Part 5: How an Energy Hub Film Made Me Hate (And Love) Philadelphia." Ways of Engaging Nature. Ed. Shereen Chang. Web blog post. Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities Fellows Blog. 17 April 2017. [http://www.ppehlab.org/blogposts/2017/4/7/ways-of-engaging-nature-part-5, May 10, 2017]
By Melissa B. Skolnick
Across universities, it can be difficult to feel empowered to tell stories in a creative way when the focus is on conducting quantitative research, publishing texts, and presenting at conferences. How can we share our stories in a way that pushes against these notions, while also sharing our work with broader audiences? What does it mean to conduct multimodal and ethnographic research, while also staying true to the communities we are representing, as well as ourselves? How can we tell timely stories about our own communities, offering authentic narratives that add to popular discourse?
These are some of the questions that the CAMRA Fellows Program has been grappling with over the past four months.
The CAMRA Fellows Program provides undergraduate students from the University of Pennsylvania with the opportunity to explore and engage multiple media forms for their own research projects with the support and guidance of CAMRA scholars and mentors. The program has been in existence for four years, but is officially hosted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice for the first time. Due to a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation this past year, the program also expanded to include students from other universities in the region, specifically geared toward students traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
Each of the fellows is creating a short film that focuses on timely issues near and dear to each of them: urban farming as a tool of resistance, empowerment within the foster care system, and black women sharing their perspectives on street harassment, to name a few. We always needed the platform to tell our stories, but now, it has become more important than ever.
Join us on Friday, April 7, from 4:30-6:30pm at the Slought Foundaton, for the CAMRA Fellows Program Multimedia Showcase
The fellows and the projects they will be sharing include:
By Arjun Shankar, PhD
At the Penn Museum, there is a room deep in its basement, far away from the watchful eyes of a passing public in which nearly 900 skulls sit, organized by number, behind glass cabinets, a reminder of anthropology’s beginnings as the study of the Other. Each of these skulls was collected by the racist scientist, Samuel Morton, over the course of 50 years, meticulously differentiated based on his global racial categorization system: mongolian race, caucasian race, malay race, american race, and the ethiopian race. Similar racial categories were promoted with variations around the world, sometimes with fewer and more racial categories included.
But before we explore these cabinets of curiosities further, we might ask, how can a human skull and humans become an object of curiosity? The first and most important starting point is to strip these humans of his or her humanity. These human skulls, which were attached to human beings with families, cultures, aspirations, dreams, must be considered valuable only in so far as they were/are the repositories of information for those conferred subjectivity, agency, and, yes, curiosity. Laws reinforce this logic as, to this day, skulls that are over 100 years old are considered antiques, no different than the jars, furniture, and anything else that was considered worthy of inclusion in the cabinets of curiosity. Whether or not the skulls were stolen from sacred burial sites, sold by a kin relation to make a quick buck, or given as gifts by prison wardens after the deaths of inmates, they are now merely antiques.
The 2016 Camra Fellows program application is open. Any Penn (or nearby university) undergrad or masters student working on a independent media project is encouraged to apply! We are excited to build off the successes of the previous fellows and mentors and to facilitate great media work again this year.
APPLY HERE for the Camra Fellows 2016 Program.
Download the camrafellows2016 flyer here.
A Quiet Inquisition
a film by Holen Kahn and Alessandra Zeka (66 minutes).
Introduction by Tali Ziv, Anthropology, Penn.
“At a public hospital in Managua, Nicaragua, an OBGYN Doctor struggles with her conscience as she contends with the harrowing implications of a new law that prevents the termination of any pregnancy, even when a woman’s life is at stake. As the Doctor and her colleagues navigate the fears of prosecution and whether to use medical protocols that enable them to save lives, the drama of the deadly impact of this law emerges. We travel the story with the charming and compassionate doctor who becomes a hero in unlikely circumstances.”
Free with Penn Museum Admission.
This is a co-sponsored film screening at the Penn Museum in collaboration with the Penn Humanities Forum on Sex and Penn Museum Culture Films.
Sunday, 8 November 2015 – 2:00pm
Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum, 3260 South StreetLearn more here.