Yesler Terrace documentary debuts at Seattle International Film Festival

Directors share their experiences about making the movie and how they think redevelopment will affect the community

Sarah Kuck, left, and Saman Maydani are the documentarians behind "Beyond the Walls," a film about the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace and its impact on the people who live there.

Sarah Kuck, left, and Saman Maydani are the documentarians behind “Beyond the Walls,” a film about the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace and its impact on the people who live there.

Editor’s note: “Even the Walls,” a film about the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, conceived and directed by Seattle natives Saman Maydani and Sarah Kuck, premiered May 23 at the Seattle International Film Festival. The Voice editor, Nancy Gardner, recently asked these filmmakers about what they discovered during the creative process and what they have learned from the culture that exists in Yesler Terrace now and what the residents’ futures may hold.

Where did the idea for “Even the Walls” come from, and can you explain the significance or meaning behind the title?

We’re both interested in the idea of home. Having both lived in multiple cities and countries growing up, we wanted to make a piece that spoke to humanity’s innate ability to connect and create home and community. Of course right now Yesler is going through a huge transition, not all of which is positive in the eyes of its community members. It was important for us to bring our craft as storytellers to this perspective, so that the voices of people living in Yesler could be heard on a broader scale. Their story is not unique and really mirrors many of our experiences today. We’re living in a time of rampant materialism, where development decisions are seemingly made with feverish speed, often leaving out voices of the very people they claim to be “helping.”
In preparation for the film we wrote a lot together. We found a Russian proverb about home that we liked and it stuck as a title. “When you are home, even the walls help you.” It seems to mean different things to different people – and we like that! For us in making the film, while we witnessed physical walls being torn down, the metaphysical, human connections, these truer “walls of support” in a sense, endured. This human connection was hope, and something we wanted to focus on.

Did anything surprise you when making this documentary?
We were surprised to hear, across the board, just how frustrated people were with what is happening.
We learnt that Yesler’s current architecture, with its many pathways and row-houses with gardens was a great contributor to the feelings of connectedness and safety that many residents are sad to lose with the new development.
Almost everyone we interviewed ended up speaking about the children. The community’s natural focus and concern was the next generation, and what the consequences would be for them if they weren’t considered in all of this development.

What did you learn about YT and/or the residents who live there?
Like any neighborhood it has its positive and negative aspects, but because it is home, despite that, people love their neighborhood, and their neighbors.
We also learned that many of the people living in Yesler Terrace feel a sense of fullness in their lives, despite their constant struggle to make ends meet. Many of the residents we talked with have strong social connections to each other and feel a deep connection to place. When we were able to see this and feel this through their stories, we truly realized how sad and scary this move will be for most of the residents. They are not just losing four walls, but the framework for their invisible systems of human connectivity and trust, which they have spent decades cultivating.

How did your premier go? How can others see your film?
We’re currently working on a few possible Seattle screenings in the Fall. In the meantime people can sign up on our website for updates at http://www.eventhewalls.com/listserve-sign-up.

What’s next for you two?
We’re hoping to continue to explore the idea of home and belonging. We have a few concepts in the works, but nothing solid yet.

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