Documentary team catches crime on film

Mem­bers of Rock Min­is­tries, a nondenom­in­a­tion­al min­istry on Kens­ing­ton Av­en­ue, do out­reach with wo­men on Kens­ing­ton Av­en­ue, as por­trayed by the ‘This Is Kens­ing­ton’ doc­u­ment­ary team. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF THIS IS KENS­ING­TON

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.this­iskens­ing­ for more in­form­a­tion.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­

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