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Thousands of Americans Videotape Their Cities for Documentary Project

Kyle Ruddick is one of the co-founders of Your Day. Your City. Your Future.
Kyle Ruddick is one of the co-founders of Your Day. Your City. Your Future.

On April 26, 2014, thousands of professional and amateur filmmakers will take videos in 11 U.S. cities to document life in their home towns. The videos will be loaded into a geo-tagged map of their cities and organizers hope they will help people change the futures of the urban areas . VOA’s David Byrd spoke to Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman, the co-founders of the One Day on Earth project about what prompted the new project and what they hope to accomplish.

BYRD: Why do this again? Why take it from the world level down to the local level specifically to 11 U.S. cities?

LITMAN: Well, as a global community we started to see very early on that participation was very, very much heightened in large metro areas, and a lot of the change that’s happening around the world is going to be happening in our cities, and taking down to a neighborhood level even. And so it was already organically happening throughout the community. We saw the interest to be able to dive in locally from a community level. And I think at the community level, people see their city or town in a very personal light, and it’s very, very digestible. So we were responding back from that interest from our community and had some amazing partners step forward that were also just as enthusiastic to dive in at the community level. And so we launched this project. We have been working on this for over 16 months, and it’s always interesting to see it all come together and congeal in the final weeks here, because we have one week left. April 26th is our film date in 11 U.S. cities.
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BYRD: And what are you looking for from this year’s project that’s different from some of the ones you’ve done in the past? What are you hoping to learn from it?

RUDDICK: This is the first time that we’ve really focused on a specific topic, but also focused on the future. And I think that, you know, in addition to that we’ve put out a creative call where we’ve asked 10 questions. And these 10 questions are about the future of your city, about why you love your city and some of the problems in your city. And so this time we’re definitely taking a greater approach to get specific. And I think that that is actually turning out really well, people are really getting into these questions and really getting into their investigations. And it’s still very broad. But I think that we’re going to have people really get into that, and you’re going to see a lot of similarities and differences between how people approach those ideas.

BYRD: I wanted to ask about those 10 questions: some of them are ‘why are you in your community?’ and ‘what do you love about your community?’ and ‘who is your community not serving?’ is one of them that kind of intrigued me; ‘what do you hope for your community in the next 20 years?’ – Brandon how did you guys come up with these questions?
Brandon Litman is one of the co-founders of Your Day. Your City. Your Future
Brandon Litman is one of the co-founders of Your Day. Your City. Your Future
LITMAN: Well, actually I think Kyle as creative director and director of the project, we sat down together and reviewed different approaches for activating the community and really thinking a little bit about, you know ‘what is it that keeps us in cities?’ and also thinking about ‘what are the reasons to stay in a city?’ But I think that Kyle might have a little bit better insight as to how we went through creatively going through those questions.

BYRD: Kyle?

RUDDICK: I mean, I bounced them off the whole team constantly but ultimately we were just coming up with a way that we could think about ‘okay if this is going to become a show, you know there’s a little bit of an arc to this, too.’ So it’s sort of like ‘let’s come up with questions that anyone could think of that happen to fall under but also gives it a shape’ so there could be, you know, this idea of there could be a set up. Like our love for the city: why we are in the city in the first place. And the second part could be about problems and what other challenges they’re facing and the last part could be about the future. And that’s really how we did it. And there’s a lot of bouncing back and forth between local producers and different people that we trusted to kind of evolve it.

BYRD: Some of the cities on the list include New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Those are huge metropolitan areas. Did you get more entries from those areas and if you did what are you expecting to see?

LITMAN: The city selection really, really shows the diversity within the American city, and I do have to mention that this is just the first wave, here. We are hoping and we are seeing great participation throughout all the cities and we are happy to see that there’s a lot of interest to expand this into new cities both domestically and internationally. From these cities were have a border city, a border region really; actually Detroit also is on a border, which you know we don’t commonly think about that when, as we have been shaping this project. We have both the Canada and the Mexico border in the cities. So I think that there’s – and on the big city side, you know I think that there’s also some interesting immigration conversations and labor conversations going on throughout the country. I think a lot of Americans are looking into what is the future of the American city and how is it growing. You know, 85% of Americans currently live in a metropolitan area.

BYRD: Kyle, why did you pick this particular date versus some other date? The other dates in the One World project were October 10, 2010 and November 11, 2011 and December 12, 2012; why did you pick 4/26/14?

RUDDICK: We wanted to get away from numerology (laughs). No I mean really it was just a timing thing. We wanted it to be warm enough that people could participate; there’s a lot of different school systems that we were sort of negotiating in the sense of like if there’s Spring break or not; so really, the thing about a One Day on Earth project is that it’s really not necessarily about just that day. It really needs to be broad enough that almost anything could happen. And in this case with some research we decided to go with a Saturday also because a lot of people have the day off and a lot of great filmmakers want to be able to participate in this but can only do so on their day off. And so, really no reason other than it was just – it wasn’t an Easter day, it wasn’t an Earth Day, it wasn’t anything that would color it other than just this is a slice of a moment in time. And so, you know, April 26th is what it became.

BYRD: Now there’s also an educational package that goes along with the documentary filmmaking for school kids and for teachers. How are you hoping that that will basically change the future for lack of a better way of putting it. Brandon first and then Kyle if you could answer.

LITMAN: Well, we’ve always had a strong focus on the educational component for these projects; not just from a participation standpoint and a civic engagement standpoint, but from a media literacy standpoint and just getting a chance to really see your life differently through a lens. And so our educational toolkit has evolved a little bit over the years. We’re happy to say that teachers and classrooms have used the toolkit in over 62 countries and in hundreds of hundreds of classrooms. So, you know, storytelling has evolved so much and is such an important tool for communication not just interpersonal communication but also to communicate high priority issues and just how you see the world and to connect yourself with your peers and with your community. So I think that this is an interesting opportunity to be able to have an easy and fun day to be able to explore and expand your knowledge base on communicating through media. And I think that’s a powerful, powerful proposition and opportunity.

RUDDICK: One of the 10 questions is ‘what do you hope for your city in the next 20 years?’ And I think that that’s a really interesting challenge for young people to take on. Additionally, I also just have seen so many really talented young filmmakers participate in our global projects. And I think it’s just – you know, there’s something happening with media and the way we consume media and the way we are now creating media. There’s a sense now that an essential job skill is really your media literacy -- your ability to actually make a video that communicates -- is incredibly important and powerful, not just in our country but globally. And you know we can see that there’s major revolutions and changes happening around the world now because people are empowering themselves with the tools of video. And I think that it’s incredibly important that we in this country and globally provide the education so that people see it that way.

BYRD: When will the final documentary, or the documentary program series be produced where can people see it?

LITMAN: Right now we’re scheduled for a fourth quarter (September – December) release. And unlike our other projects, this is right now slated to be three hours – three separate parts. We’re also going to be making a shorter version for community screenings. And this will –we will be pushing this one out through public broadcasters and try to get it as far and wide through our community as possible. So we’re excited to also be able to have that community element to give back and celebrate it and take that next step for engagement and bringing people together.