"We have a lifetime of stories to tell. We need more people telling our stories and telling them the way they ought to be told." - Julie Dash, writer, film director, + producer
Since their launch in 2013, CineSPEAK has embodied Julie Dash’s call-to-action. Not only are these words featured on one of their recent posters (a collaboration with artist Brunofsky ) – but they’re also at the heart of the organization’s work. CineSPEAK focuses on creating space and centering the stories of individuals and communities, often underrepresented in mainstream cinema. Founded and directed by Sarah Mueller, CineSPEAK exists at the intersection of film and community and engages diverse audiences through independent, repertory, and cause-based film making.
“I have always loved movies,” Mueller said. “Part of what we do at CineSPEAK is bring art out of the art-houses and build cinema in and with the people that exist around our beautiful city.”
Mueller and her small staff of volunteers create community cinema that lives outside of traditional movie theaters. Mueller, a self-proclaimed film nerd, was recently named as one of Leadership Philadelphia’s2018 Connectors and Keepers . This comes as no surprise as, over the last 8 years, she’s had the privilege of working in various alternative settings in urban agriculture, media literacy, digital photography, and development, alongside impactful organizations such as ArtWell, Project HOME, Scribe Video Center, and BlackStar Film Festival.
Mueller also lives in Brewerytown, a neighborhood in the midst of much change and exponentially-advancing gentrification. CineSPEAK’s most recent project, Boycott the Oscars, takes place there and seeks to bring together longstanding North Philadelphia residents and newcomers – as neighbors – to watch films overlooked by the Academy of Motion Pictures and have open and important conversations about gentrification and displacement.
“We wanted to do it in our neighborhood of lower, North Philadelphia because we wanted to honor the experiences of long-standing residents and create opportunities for people who are new and moving-in to understand what the lived-experiences might be of people who have lived here for a long-time.”
Screening gems such as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Dee Ree’s Pariah , Mueller hopes the series will generate opportunity for positive interaction and genuine relationship building across social divides while also teaching media criticism and literacy. The series has already received coverage from Philly Voice and even garnered a shout-out from NPR’s popular podcast, Code Switch .
“With CultureWorks, you don’t feel stupid asking questions and you are given thoughtful, intentional answers. There are incredible workshops – and as a people person, I really love the people-ness of CultureWorks and am just really thankful to be a member."
There’s no doubt that CineSPEAK’s impact is far-reaching, yet their team of volunteers is relatively small. Being members of CultureWorks allows them the space, human capital, and services needed to both continue and scale their work.
“One of the scariest things about being a creative is the feeling that you don’t know enough of something,” said Mueller. “With CultureWorks, you don’t feel stupid asking questions and you are given thoughtful, intentional answers. There are incredible workshops – and as a people person, I really love the people-ness of CultureWorks and am just really thankful to be a member”.
With CultureWorks’ 501c3 umbrella, CineSPEAK not only has the back-office infrastructure needed to scale (they just recently received funding from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund), but they also have the team and expertise ready to help them do what Mueller believes film is designed to do “Bring people together to create change."
Through their work, CineSPEAK is doing just that – promoting community togetherness; cultivating the next generation of discerning moviegoers; and encouraging people to demand social justice both on-and-off screen. After all, cinema is for the masses.