People in conversation

Filmbuilding Malden: An Innovative Community-Building Art Project

Image: Filmbuilding Malden

“How do we heal our country? I think it's things like this.”

John Sarrouf, Essential Partners

Led by Urban Media Arts, Filmbuilding Malden was an innovative public art project that aimed to leverage filmmaking to build a stronger community in Malden, MA, a diverse suburb just outside Boston. 

Sponsored by the City of Malden as well as Malden Access Television, twenty-three community members were selected to participate in the initiative. The participants formed six filmmaking groups, and each group was to collaboratively produce a short film exploring the question “Who is Malden?”

In May 2023, Essential Partners led a day-long orientation for Filmbuilding Malden participants—a dialogue experience followed by two skill-building seminars. The filmmakers would use these skills in the course of their collaborative art-making and with the subjects of their films as well, as a tool to tell richer, more complex, more powerful stories.

The completed films premiered at the Who is Malden Film Series in the fall of 2023. Click here to watch the complete film series, including the short documentary “Behind the Scenes: Filmbuilding Malden,” embedded below.

The capstone event featured remarks by Malden Mayor Gary Christenson as well as a roundtable discussion with Urban Media Arts founder Tom Flint; Kobena Bonney, Past President of the Ghana Association of Greater Boston (GAGB); Amanda Linehan, Malden’s Ward 3 City Councillor; filmmaker Alexander Nezam; and EP co-Executive Director John Sarrouf.

“I think, after being Mayor for twelve years, that I've seen it all and done it all,” Mayor Christenson reflected. “But after watching these amazing films, I have learned about things in Malden that I never knew.” In particular, Mayor Christenson noted the film “Green Elephant,” which explores some challenges of the housing crisis. 

“Seeing it in the film,” the Mayor said, “really has spurred us to action. Just last Tuesday night, we presented a proposal to the City Council [for] a 412 unit development, of which 40% of those units will be made affordable.”

City Councilor Linehan meanwhile marveled at the power of the project to draw in new voices from the community. “You host a lot of meetings, you go to a lot of meetings, and I've noticed over the years that you see a lot of the same faces … the people that I met through this, or that I see having been involved it's people I've never encountered before, which to me means that it reached a depth of the community that's very unusual.”

“As we work on issues like polarization in our country, I can't think of a more important thing to do than this kind of project,” said EP's John Sarrouf, “a project that helps people understand each other's stories and builds relationships with people you haven't met—because that's what makes a community resilient in the worst of times and really creative and thriving in the best of times. So I think it is the answer to the big question that so many people are asking right now, How do we heal our country? I think it's things like this.”