A trio of filmmakers documenting the realities of poverty and crime in Kensington were thrust into the spotlight after they captured raw footage of a recent shooting in Port Richmond near the border of Kensington, but the documentarians say their project is about more than this one incident.
A team of documentary filmmakers has been working to show all sides of Kensington, for better or worse, over the past year.
In a tragic intersection of circumstances, the filmmakers working on “This is Kensington” were in the area of Almond and Auburn streets — technically within the neighborhood boundaries of Port Richmond, at the end of the neighborhood closer to Kensington/Old Richmond — where a man driving was shot and killed two weeks ago.
The cameras were rolling through the aftermath of the tragedy.
“The unfortunate thing is that that happens somewhere every day, not just in Kensington, but somewhere,” said Sarah Fry, one of three filmmakers working on the project, and who was on the street with her camera when that shooting occurred. “We just want to show what’s going on.”
Theodore Cossum, 20, was driving a Cadillac when a man on a bike rode up beside him and shot Cossum through the window. Cossum had a pending case for possession of drugs with intent to sell at the time of his death.
Fry was filming an interview inside a home when she heard gunshots outside. She rushed out with her camera and saw Cossum’s car crashed into a parked car. As Fry’s camera rolled, shocked neighbors rushed over to inspect the scene, including Cossum’s sister, who wept for her slain brother.
Police who were in the area reportedly witnessed the shooting, and arrested Daniel Walker, 24, on charges of murder.
But for James Sindaco, 34, Sarah Fry, 24 and Brad Larrison, 25, the filmmakers behind “This is Kensington,” this incident is a symptom of the levels of poverty in Kensington that they have been documenting for about a year.
The three are all native Pennsylvanians – Fry from Richland Town in Bucks County, Larrison (who is a freelance photographer for The Northeast Times, Star’s sister publication) from Harrisburg, and Sindaco from Havertown in Delaware County.
All have at some point lived in different parts of the River Wards. But they were drawn to document Kensington, Sindaco said, precisely because to most Philadelphians, it has been written off as a nothing but a slum.
“There’s so many factors that have allowed Kensington to become what it is. It’s not just the recession or the introduction of heroin,” Sindaco said. “Most people … find it much easier to just label an area as lost than to try to find out what’s going on there and find some sympathy and maybe get involved.”
The three filmmakers are dedicated to “This is Kensington” for the long haul, or however long it takes to finish documenting the realities of Kensington, they said. They met at Temple University as undergraduates studying photojournalism, and last year decided to start this independent project. Since then, the trio has spent countless hours building connections with people in Kensington, typically without the cameras rolling.
“Our idea was we didn’t want to focus on the negative stuff in Kensington,” Sindaco said.
Sindaco said this project was partly inspired when he discovered Rock Ministries at 2755 Kensington Ave. one day while walking around the neighborhood. The door was open and young men were inside boxing and training in the church’s gym.
But the darker side of Kensington comes through in short films that “This is Kensington” has posted online. Those videos include a night spent following members of Rock Ministries Church as they perform outreach with prostitutes on Kensington Avenue. In another, heroin addicts in a run-down Kensington house share their stories with the filmmakers.
“These are the conditions that kids live in, from going hungry to seeing drug use and violence every day,” Sindaco said.
Asked how Kensington has fallen into its current state, the filmmakers say there is no easy answer.
“It says something about the American city,” Larrison said. “It goes beyond the recession, because it’s been that way for decades.”
“There are many neighborhoods in Philadelphia and other cities that are under covered,” Fry said. “Journalists come in and out of them all the time. I believe that ‘parachute journalism’ – it might not build connections that will lead you to truth.”
Visit www.thisiskensington.com for more information.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.