New Film to Update 2002 Documentary on Gentrification in Portland, Ore.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.14.07 PMWork has begun on a follow-up to the 2002 documentary on gentrification and affordable housing in the black neighborhoods of Portland, Ore., Northeast Passage: The Inner City and the American Dream, which was released at a time when gentrification was only a marginal issue. Since then, Portland has propelled itself in the national imagination as a place that attracts hordes of creative young people. It’s also become the whitest major city in the country, according to The Oregonian.

WATCH: Original Documentary Available on Amazon Streaming

Portland’s African American community, once centered in North and Northeast Portland, has been dispersed to the fringes of the metro area as new, wealthier whites have moved into the area. Nikki Williams, an African American woman and focus of the original documentary, has thrown up her hands. She is selling her home in North Portland and moving to Texas in hopes of connecting with black community there. THE NEW PROJECT: [Working title] Northeast Passage Two: Gentrification in Portland 14 Years Later

Williams (left) at age 28 and (right) at age 43

Williams (left) at age 28 and (right) at age 43

A black single mother abandons Portland Ore. after gentrification all but destroys her sense of community.

In 1999, Nikki Williams, a black woman living in Northeast Portland, once welcomed the gentrification that was beginning to encroach on her neighborhood. Fourteen years later, she’s one of the last black people left in the area. The gentrification, which she saw as a salvation from the area’s crime and neglect, has all but wiped out her sense of black community.  In search of a new black neighborhood, she’s moving to Dallas, Texas, selling her house and leaving the only city she’s ever known.

Northeast Passage Two will followup on the original documentary that chronicled Williams as she struggled to rid her street of drug dealers. Williams eventually teamed up with her new white neighbors to fight a proposed affordable housing development on her block.

VIDEO BELOW: First Ten Minutes of the Original Documentary Northeast Passage

The film also contrasted the history of the black community in Oregon and public policies aimed at revitalizing Portland’s African American neighborhoods. Since the film premiered the neighborhoods around North Mississippi Avenue and Northeast Alberta Street have radically changed.  Portland is now a magnet for high-tech industries and a new generation of young creative people. North and Northeast Portland, once the heart of the black community, has become a white majority neighborhood.
The film will retrace what Williams and the neighborhood were like 14 years ago and look at the stark changes that have occurred in her life and her community. I also intend to turn the camera on myself. For the last 15 years, I have lived about six blocks from Williams.
BEHIND THE SCENES Early this month I left my position as director of content at GoLocalPDX and am now working on this documentary project full steam. Since the original film premiered at the Kennedy School and on OPB, I’ve constantly been asked when we would do an update to the film. Well, I’m happy to say, now. Williams herself prompted the follow-up project.  I have stayed close to Williams on her over the years and she recently told me she was leaving Portland and that now would be a good time to revisit the project. Using some of the original project’s 125 hours of footage along with new interviews with public policy experts, residents and former residents of the area, the film will be a time lapse of Williams’ life and the changes in the neighborhood, not unlike Michael Apted’s famous 7 & Up series.

BELOW: More Description of the Original Documentary
Northeast Passage Two is aimed primarily for local viewers.  At the moment, the producers, myself and co-producer Spencer Wolf, do not have ambitions for a commercial release. Both Spencer Wolf (the original film’s co-producer) and We plan to distribute the project free of charge wherever and whenever possible A Kickstarter campaign will launch later this spring to help cover some of the costs. The project is looking at a release date in the fall of 2015. The original documentary is not available for free. It is distributed by the National Film Network.

Copies, however, may still be available at some Multnomah County Public Libraries. Here is the jacket cover description from the original film:

Neighborhoods besieged by discrimination, neglect and crime frequently welcome any change that seems to be for the better. But gentrification can come at a high price. In Portland, Oregon, one woman struggling to provide a decent life for her 10-year-old daughter takes on public officials and a developer intent on creating low-income housing in her neighborhood. While public officials emphasize the need to create affordable housing in order to revitalize the community, opponents fear that the new property will attract renters who won’t take pride in their neighborhood in the way that homeowners do. But when homeowners replace renters in gentrifying neighborhoods, long-term residents are often priced out and a new class prejudice can arise. NorthEast Passage is a unique portrait of a neighborhood in the midst of dramatic change. It chronicles the clashes between those who advocate making rental properties available to low-income individuals and families, and those who promote home ownership. Proponents of both sides get equal say as the debate escalates. As seen through the eyes of one woman, this film examines an issue that challenges nearly every inner city in the country.

Please follow this blog, or my Twitter or Facebook account for updates on the project and Kickstarter campaign.


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