Caleb Bender introduces: Stories from the Hill

My name is Caleb Bender (he/him). I am a Film Production and Mathematics double major going into my 4th year at Pitt. As a freshman, I was immediately attracted to Pitt’s film program. Through film you can study history, language, culture, philosophy, and more, but I found a particular attraction to documentary filmmaking. Perhaps completely opposite, Mathematics is a very rigid an theoretical field that also piqued my interest. I found that using “both halves” of my brain makes me an engaged and motivated student.

Outside of school, I like watching soccer, collecting records, and watching movies. I don’t have many concrete plan for after graduation, but I would love to study abroad before my career as a student is over.

The project that I am working on for the Creative Arts Fellowship is a documentary about Pittsburgh’s Hill District that will tentatively be titled “Stories from the Hill”. My faculty mentor is Robert Clift, who taught the documentary film course that first attracted me to documentary as a genre. My initial idea was to use the vast archives of Charles “Teenie” Harris photos from the Carnegie Library to paint a vivid picture of Pittsburgh’s oldest neighborhood. Because of the complex history of systemic racism inflicted upon the majority Black Hill District, I have decided to change my focus slightly.

Instead of focusing just on historical record and the hardships of several decades ago, I want to contextualize the neighborhood’s history and discuss how those events shape the future of the Hill District. In the mid-20th century, a massive chunk of the neighborhood was demolished to build civic arena, displacing businesses and thousands of residents. Now, construction is starting on a massive office park and commercial space on the exact same land that was originally demolished.

Through a combination of interviews, voiceover, Teenie Harris Photographs, original and archival footage, I plan to create a 30-minute documentary about the complex story of racism, urban planning, socioeconomics, and personal experience that is encapsulated by one of Pittsburgh’s most unique and important neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, the systemic racism and negligence rampant in the history of the Hill District is all too common in the US. Cities everywhere have long histories of underfunding, gerrymandering, overpolicing, brutalization, and political undermining. Telling the story of the Hill District is telling the history of the racist legacy of the United States to this day.

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