Filmmaker hopes inner-city documentary produces hope
The story may seem one of hopelessness, but that’s not the way Bhawin Suchak sees it.
“Throwaways,” a 62-minute film documenting the struggles of activist Ira McKinley and his fight for positive change in the inner city, will be released sometime early in 2014, and Suchak, who directed, produced, filmed and edited the project, is hopeful people will come away inspired and not discouraged after viewing the movie.
“We really tried to end the film on a note of hope,” said Suchak, a native of Tanzania who moved to the Buffalo area with his parents at the age of 11 and then earned a degree in journalism and English history from the University at Albany in 1998.
“A lot of films dealing with these things can leave people hopeless, but we wanted to inspire people to get involved in their community. That’s Ira’s story. He started engaging with the community, not disengaging. It’s his story and he’s not discouraged.”
McKinley, who is also a director/producer of “Throwaways,” and also shot some footage, is an Air Force veteran, filmmaker and ex-felon.
Living on the margins
The two men, both black, met during the summer of 2011 and decided to work on a project together focusing on people “living on the margins of society,” as McKinley put it. Early in the process, Suchak decided to direct his lens at McKinley and include him in the story.
“He was making some short films about interactions and confrontations with the police, and we’ve integrated some of that into our film,” said Suchak. “But at one point I essentially decided to turn the camera on Ira. He’s the one with the important story to tell.”
Initially, Suchak’s idea was met with resistance from McKinley.
“I knew I had a story to tell, but at first I was reluctant to be in front of the camera,” said McKinley. “But after I saw it start to come together I knew this project had the potential to make a powerful statement about where we are at as a country.”
A major component of the documentary is McKinley interacting with the police and the community.
“It’s about people not being noticed and a community that is getting frustrated,” said Suchak. “Ira was waiting for some change the traditional way, but then he realized we needed to get our act together to bring about that change. He confronts the police, the mayor and others about the issues these marginalized people are facing every day in the city.”
“Throwaways” was filmed in Albany, New York City and Ithaca. A rough cut has been screened in Albany and in Northampton, Mass., but after gaining some serious interest from prominent film editor Sam Pollard, Suchak and McKinley went back into the editing room and came away with an even better documentary.
Pollard, who has worked with Spike Lee’s “4 Little Girls,” and was also involved in the documentary, “Slavery By Another Name,” was so impressed that he decided to become executive producer of “Throwaways.”
Drawn to narrative
“When I first met these filmmakers and viewed the rough cut, I was drawn to this powerful personal narrative of people of color in Albany struggling with issues of race, police violence and mass incarceration,” Pollard said in a press release.
“After they came back and showed me the final edit I was even more convinced that this was a story I wanted to support and get on board as their executive producer.”
Among those interviewed in the film is Michelle Alexander, whose 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow,” was on the New York Times best-sellers list for more than a year.
“I know her book really spoke to Ira, and it’s great to have her and Sam involved in the film,” said Suchak. “We feel like the sky is the limit right now. We’ve applied to Sundance and other film festivals, and having Sam’s stamp of approval is really going to help us. He’s such an icon that he’s going to open some doors for us.”
Along with his filmmaking, Suchak works as a teacher at the Albany Free School. Previously a reporter for the Colonie Spotlight newspaper, he is also involved in after-school programs at Albany High, and works as the founder and director of Youth FX, a summer filmmaking program for teens based out of Grand Street Community Arts, a neighborhood based non-profit arts center in Albany.
While Suchak is busy working on funding for “Throwaways,” he and McKinley are already planning new documentaries.
“Ira is working on a project about a small town in Florida, where his family is from, that produces football players who have gone on to the NFL,” said Suchak, “and I’m planning a documentary on Jun-san Yasuda, the monk who lives at the Grafton Peace Pagoda. They are independent projects, but I see us partnering on a number of things in the future.”
Also working with the duo on “Throwaways” were two New York City-based filmmakers, Adele Pham and Messlah Rhodes. Acting as a creative consultant was Victoria Kereszi from The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy.
“We’ve had some great people working with us,” said Suchak. “We’re excited about the film festivals, but we also want to do some screening at colleges and community centers. I’m trying to work with some local professors in sociology and urban studies. Their subject matter deals with what we’re trying to cover in the film.”