Unlike most filmmakers who present polished completed works, Stephen Blauweiss likes to screen his creations a segment at a time, inviting the community to comment and participate.
“It takes a little bit of chutzpah to show something that’s not completed,” said the Kingston-based independent filmmaker and graphic designer. “Some segments are still rough. People comment and tell me to interview so-and-so or that their cousin has five great photographs. I always listen. It always adds to it.”
Sharing his vision a segment at a time is how Blauweiss also made his last film, “The Lost Rondout: A Story of Urban Renewal,” which he co-produced with Lynn Woods. The 2016 film detailed urban renewal efforts that razed waterfront streets in the Rondout section of Kingston, offering lessons in conscious planning by capturing what was lost.
“People picture you sitting in a studio and working on a film for two years, then saying here it is,” said Karen Berelowitz, producer and studio manager at Blauweiss Films. “Whereas the way Stephen works is by saying, here’s five minutes, then another five minutes, then another five minutes and it gets people so excited about it. They get involved in the film by contributing photos and ideas.”
A segment of the company’s next documentary film-in-progress, “Kingston: Reinventing An American City,” will be shown in a Celebrate Kingston event from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 23 at Gallo Park in the Rondout section of Kingston. The film focuses on the changing face of Midtown Kingston, recently designated an Arts District. The event will feature rare photographs of lost local architecture, including interior shots of the iconic Post Office (below), razed over 50 years ago, but not forgotten.
Growing up in New York City, Blauweiss noticed first hand how neighborhoods can change in both good and bad ways. This led to an interest in the city’s architectural legacy and that interest extended to Kingston’s history when he moved there in 1999.
“The thing I noticed immediately about Kingston is the diversity of housing stock, there’s so much great architecture, so many wonderful details. You see buildings from the 1600s; some of the oldest buildings in the country are here. Unfortunately, a lot of Kingston’s great architecture is lost.”
When buildings disappear, the stories of those who lived and worked in them can also be lost, said Blauweiss. Learning about a city’s architectural history can strengthen your appreciation of where you live.
“I’ve gone to all the screenings of “Lost Rondout” and talked to people afterwards,” said Berelowitz. “So many new Kingston residents say, wow, it just blows my mind how much more I appreciate this neighborhood and understand it. I really appreciate the buildings that are still there. By sharing history more people are motivated to be part of the discussion about how to preserve it.”
Artist and entrepreneur Berelowitz began working with Blauweiss in January 2017, after a decade working for nonprofits in Washington D.C. During a summer break studying meditation at The Omega Institute, she decided to make the Hudson Valley her home and eventually opened a store on the very Rondout street reshaped by urban renewal.
It’s not that urban renewal had evil intentions, she said, but there is a lot to learn from where it fails, both in preserving history and providing housing for the people it displaces.
“The buildings we now think are so ugly and bland, in the 70s they were the new thing,” said Berelowitz. “At the time there wasn’t that much appreciation for the past. We obviously learned so much in the last 50 or 60 years. It’s actually more attractive to artists and developers and people in general if we can use that old architecture to make a building way better than new construction.”
Blauweiss Films will host a second free Kingston event on October 21. The multimedia photo exhibit “Kingston: An Architectural Legacy Then & Now will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at 33 Canfield Street in midtown Kingston. An Woodstock event on Nov. 4, focuses on another Blauweiss film-in-progress, “Woodstock: 100 Years of the Art,” which highlights the village’s creative institutions.
Between working on feature-length films, the filmmakers craft short artist profiles, some of which appear on the PBS station WMHT. Blauweiss produces a monthly Art Scene video web series, with profiles on Hudson Valley artists, museums and galleries. Berelowitz, the subject of one of those profiles, sells the products she designs at her online business Karmabee.
The filmmakers hope they can inspire a thoughtful approach to city planning. To that end they plan to open a museum focused on the Hudson Valley’s diverse architectural landscape at the Fuller Factory building in Midtown Kingston.
“I want to inspire people to think a little differently,” said Blauweiss. “I want to influence positive change”