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The intimate story of one community's fight for equal access to good jobs and safe parks in our nation's capital.
The intimate story of one community's fight for equal access to good jobs and safe parks in our nation's capital.
The intimate story of one community's fight for equal access to good jobs and safe parks in our nation's capital.
503 backers pledged $58,262 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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City of Trees: A Documentary About Green Jobs & Justice

$58,262

503

PROJECT UPDATE 12/30/14: Wow! We're thrilled that we just met ALL our stretch goals. In these last two hours, help us reach 500 backers by 10:00 pm. A pledge of any amount will help!!

We still have plenty of great perks left, including a copy of The Green Collar Economy signed by author and noted CNN personality/green jobs activist Van Jones:

Only two more of these books are available, so don't miss out! You can also preorder a DVD of City of Trees when you pledge $50 or more. Thanks again to our over 400 backers who have supported this project. Let's finish strong!!!

PROJECT UPDATE 12/29/14: Over the holidays, we blew past stretch goals #2 and #3 - HOORAY!!! As of now, we have a little over 24 hours to reach our final goal of $55k.

PROJECT UPDATE 12/23/14: Stretch goal #1 - $40k - has been unlocked, and we're well on our way to hitting goal #2. Our stretch goal tree grows ever greener.

ALSO: behold the glorious, limited-edition City of Trees hoodie, featuring Meridian Hill Pictures' logo on the front and a large tree graphic + the film logo on the back, beautifully designed by Dan Sharkey/Dizzy Giant. For a pledge of $100 or more, it can be yours! 

 PROJECT UPDATE 12/18/14: WE DID IT!!!! We hit our initial goal, which means we will get funded! Our biggest, most heartfelt THANKS to all 346(!) backers who have helped us realize a dream in the making.

Now that we raised the resources to complete the film itself, we are using the remaining 11 days of our campaign to meet stretch goals to support outreach and distribution costs. We have big ideas for how City of Trees can fill a critical gap in the national dialogue on green jobs, long-term unemployment and the economic recovery. Any funds raised beyond $35,000 will support our ability to reach audiences near and far through film festivals, community-based screenings, limited theatrical screenings, video-on-demand (and maybe even broadcast!).

Since these last two weeks of the year are also the most common time for people to make tax-deductible contributions, this is a rare opportunity for us to mobilize additional funds to support the next phase of the project.

Stretch Goal #1: Poster & Graphics (+$5,000): If we meet this goal, Dan Sharkey of Dizzy Giant (the whiz behind the film’s logo and website) will also design custom titles, credits and graphics to be included in the film itself. Dan will also design a poster, customized print business cards and postcards to help promote the film! These funds will also cover the costs to produce DCP and Blu-Ray masters needed to make sure festival audiences see City of Trees in all its high-definition glory.

Stretch Goal #2: Film Festivals (+$5,000): If we meet this goal, we will be able to support City of Trees director Brandon Kramer, producer Lance Kramer, and film participants Charles, Michael and James to attend the first film domestic film festival that the film is hopefully accepted into!

Stretch Goal #3: Screenings & Outreach (+$5,000): If we meet this goal, we will be able to cover staff time for Meridian Hill Pictures’ amazing communications manager Alison Buki to dedicate time to organize theater bookings, community-based screenings and promote the film to press outlets during the film’s first six months.

Stretch Goal #4: Broadcast & Distribution (+5,000): If we meet this goal, we will be able to cover staff time for Meridian Hill Pictures’ equally superb development manager Lindsay Davis to connect with distributors, broadcasters and VOD services to ensure the film is accessible to the widest possible audience.

Charles talks to a potential employer during a work break in a scene from 'City of Trees'
Charles talks to a potential employer during a work break in a scene from 'City of Trees'

The human story behind the $787 billion stimulus

America was losing more than 500,000 jobs per month in 2009. Within months of President Barack Obama taking office, Congress passed the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (aka "the stimulus"). Amidst intense debate, the $787 billion stimulus funded new, ambitious programs and incentives aimed at halting the country's rapid economic decline and putting America back to work. 

The problems the stimulus set out to address were so big and complicated, we found that the stories of real people grappling with long-term unemployment were often getting lost in the mix.

One year later in our hometown Washington DC, we met the DC Green Corps, run by local nonprofit Washington Parks & People. With stimulus funds, WPP launched the Green Corps program to put some of our city’s most vulnerable residents back to work by planting trees and restoring public green spaces in the city's most underserved communities. Through the Green Corps, we saw an opportunity to tell a deeply personal story about the recession and the recovery. We decided to embark upon making our first feature documentary and spent three years filming with the trainees and staff. We met passionate, unforgettable people like Charles, Michael and James - people fighting long-term unemployment and environmental injustice in their communities.

What unfolds in City of Trees is a rare window into how the massive and complex Recovery Act intersected with everyday people's lives. City of Trees tells a compelling story about the fight to create jobs within a minority workforce largely left out of the "green collar" economy. City of Trees features people whose stories represent the hopes and struggles of countless Americans impacted by the recession. It is our sincere hope that these stories spark an honest, broad-reaching dialogue on how to create equal access to good jobs and safe green spaces in our cities.

Producer Lance Kramer and Director Brandon Kramer.
Producer Lance Kramer and Director Brandon Kramer.

Why We Need Your Support

After three years of production, 200+ hours of filming, a year of editing with award-winning editor Edwin Martinez (To Be Heard), and a visit to Chicago for the esteemed KTQLabs program, we are approaching a rough cut of the film and preparing for a broad national release of this story. As we near festival deadlines, we are in need of critical completion funds to pay for some of the best working artists in the field to help finish the film. All donations through this Kickstarter campaign are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law through our non-profit fiscal sponsor Kartemquin Films (minus the fair market value of any perks claimed).

Our goal of $35,000 will cover the following (also see FAQ below for more info):

  • Our brilliant editor Eddie Martinez and assistant editor Sara Fusco finishing story editing
  • Renowned composer Brian Satz (Time is IllmaticBrooklyn Castlewriting an original score
  • Professional color correction and sound mixing for our festival and theatrical cuts 
  • Ongoing creative consultation from Katy Chevigny (E-Teamand legendary Chicago filmmakers Gordon Quinn and Justine Nagan from Kartemquin Films
  • Outreach support as we submit the film to festivals in the Spring of 2015
Overview of our completion budget.
Overview of our completion budget.

The People

Meet Charles - a sharp-witted, pensive man born and raised in DC. Since his brother received a lifetime jail sentence for murder, Charles thinks daily about the implications a single wrong choice can have on the rest of one’s life. Now with a new daughter on the way and a newfound appreciation for the environment, Charles fights daily to leverage his experience planting trees with the Corps into a sustainable career that can support his family.

With his warm smile and affable manner, it's difficult to believe that Michael was recently released from a federal penitentiary. When his mother fell ill with cancer in 2008, Michael started dealing drugs on top of his regular day job to help cover her mounting treatment bills. The Corps became one of the only places that would hire Michael given his criminal background. As he learns to plant trees and become a park steward, Michael remains determined to break the dangerous cycle of his hustler days and convince employers he is worth their consideration.

James, a lifelong Ward 8 resident, recalls the days of his youth when DC parks were safe and trees plentiful. James feels a personal mission to challenge the suspicion that frequently accompanies attempts to revitalize public green spaces in underserved parts of the city. James remains committed to fight the distrust and "reclaim the community — with the park as the galvanizing thing."

The Filmmakers

Meridian Hill Pictures team: Lance Kramer, Brandon Kramer, Hanna Stawicki, Aqiyla Thomas, Alison Buki, Lindsay Davis, Sara Fusco, Ingrid Heiberg
Meridian Hill Pictures team: Lance Kramer, Brandon Kramer, Hanna Stawicki, Aqiyla Thomas, Alison Buki, Lindsay Davis, Sara Fusco, Ingrid Heiberg

In 2010, we found ourselves recently unemployed and were taken aback by how hard it was for us to navigate being jobless during the recession, despite having a privileged upbringing, college education and a supportive family. We kept thinking about how difficult it was for others in our city with far less support to deal with the same moment in history. We started Meridian Hill Pictures in the Fall of 2010 with the goal of raising awareness of pressing social issues, democratizing the medium, building people’s storytelling capacity, and strategically sharing under-represented community perspectives with broad audiences. We immediately wanted to work on a project that helped tell the story of the recession and current economic struggle through a personal, relatable and balanced narrative. 

Our first short film from 2010, Community Harvest, profiled Charles and the Green Corps transforming a vacant DC alley into a vibrant community garden. We then taught the Green Corps trainees how to first create their own films, expressing in their own voice how urban forestry and greening helped to meet critical needs in underserved DC communities. After building relationships with the community through the participatory project and cultivating access to the program thanks to the trust of Washington Parks & People senior leadership, director Brandon Kramer, producer Lance Kramer (recent recipient of the DC Mayor's Arts Award), and award-winning DC cinematographer Ellie Walton (director, Fly By Light, Chocolate City), continued filming from 2011-2014. 

Over these four years, we have remained supremely dedicated to this story, investing countless hours and personal resources. At the same time, we built Meridian Hill Pictures as a respected community-based documentary production company with a 6-person staff, year-round paid interns, and a vibrant network of freelance filmmakers. As this is our first feature-length film, we've tried to surround ourselves with much more experienced filmmakers to guide us through this difficult process. The relationships we've developed with Kartemquin and expert DC filmmakers have all provided invaluable support along the way through mentorship and advising. Their continued time, talent and wisdom will invaluably help strengthen this final stretch of post-production.

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The original 2010 short film "Community Harvest" that inspired "City of Trees."

Outreach & Engagement Plans

We know City of Trees can help bring new understanding and empathy for the complexities of the economic crisis and fill a critical gap in the national dialogue on jobs and recovery. City of Trees can help spark a critical dialogue on new ways to leverage the talent and determination of our long-term unemployed to solve the most formidable economic and environmental challenges of our time. We plan to engage a variety of key audiences, including:

  • People living in cities with active urban parks movements and efforts to create green job training
  • People interested in the dynamics of socio-economic class and race in driving economic change
  • Professionals and experts involved in the green economy
  • People in disadvantaged communities who are struggling to find their footing in today’s economic unrest

Once the film is complete, we hope to work with local and national service and conservation Corps across all 50 states, to reach and engage the millions of Americans who are alumni of these Corps programs. We intend for City of Trees to engage dozens of public and grassroots urban parks organizations in cities nationwide, providing an invaluable story for people interested in creating or improving local parks alliances, sharing models for community-based organizing, management, stewardship and programming. We envision the film connecting with the thousands of Americans who run and develop job-training programs, helping to better inform the design of such programs, public perception, and a better understand long-term impact.

Director of Photography Ellie Walton sharing footage with lead participant Michael Samuels in Marvin Gaye Park.
Director of Photography Ellie Walton sharing footage with lead participant Michael Samuels in Marvin Gaye Park.

Our 501c3 Fiscal Sponsor: Kartemquin Films

The fiscal sponsor for this project is Kartemquin Films, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. Kartemquin Films is a collaborative center for documentary media makers who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society. With a noted tradition of nurturing emerging talent and acting as a leading voice for independent media, Kartemquin is building on over 48 years sparking democracy through documentary.

A revered resource within the film community on issues of fair use, ethics, story and civic discourse, Kartemquin is internationally recognized for crafting quality documentaries backed by audience and community engagement strategies, and for its innovative media arts community programs. www.kartemquin.com

 Frequent Asked Questions (FAQ):

Why is the film called City of Trees? DC used to be known as the "City of Trees" for its robust tree canopy dating back to Thomas Jefferson's era. Over the last 50 years, the city lost thousands of trees to disease, development, and attrition. The story of the DC Green Corps' attempt to address environmental injustice in communities east of the Anacostia River through the act of planting trees felt like a powerful frame to explore the city's complex relationship to its green spaces. If people no longer know DC as the City of Trees, we were intrigued by what would it take to reclaim that moniker.

$35,000 seems like a lot of money. Why do you need so much?
Producing an independent feature-length documentary that follows a story over multiple years costs a fair bit of money. The full production budget covering the work to produce City of Trees from 2010-2014 is about $250,000. Over the past four years, we have raised about $100,000 through grants and support from local non-profit organizations; $50,000 in contributed funds from Meridian Hill Pictures, $25,000 of Brandon & Lance's personal funds, and about $25,000 in credit card debt. As we believe strongly in artists receiving a fair wage for their work (and given that this is a story about jobs), we have always paid everyone fairly. Though the $35K goal is about 15% of our total budget, it could not be more critical at this point and will determine whether or not we can finish the film.

Is my pledge tax deductible? Our non-profit fiscal sponsor, Kartemquin Educational Films, is a public charity that is exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Accordingly, some or all of your pledge may be deductible as a charitable contribution. Please note that your deduction may not exceed the difference between the money you contributed and the fair market value of the benefits you received in consideration for your contribution. Our estimates of the fair market value of the benefits we provide to you in consideration for this donation are available upon request during the campaign and will be provided to each backer in writing following successful funding of the campaign. Please send a direct message to Lindsay [at] meridianhillpictures.com in the meantime if you have any questions about the fair market value of any perks. Please also check with your personal tax advisor regarding the income tax consequences of your contribution.

What is the current status of the DC Green Corps? Since the end of the federal stimulus, Washington Parks & People has used grants, donations, and earned revenue to continue the DC Green Corps program. The Corps has graduated over 160 people since 2010 and continues advancing entry-level urban forestry and green infrastructure work in DC. The Green Corps was certified earlier this year as part of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps and also added a youth service learning component, to introduce people of all ages to innercity environmental reclamation.

Risks and challenges

Though we have demonstrated the grit and determination to raise costs to get the film to its current rough cut stage, the end stages of completing a feature film are some of the most expensive parts of the process. If we meet our Kickstarter goal, we will have exciting opportunities to submit to Spring 2015 film festivals and launch an outreach campaign to bring the film to urban audiences across the country. Timing is critical for this film. If we can finish it and submit it to film festivals in the coming year, we will be able to reach a lot more people and spark a timely dialogue at both the national and local level.

If we don’t meet our goal, we get nothing — and risk having this project sitting on the shelf.

As a studio we have a proven track record of producing award-winning, impactful social-issue documentaries on-time and on-budget both independently and for a variety of clients. Recent clients include the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the AARP Foundation. We recently received the DC Mayor's Arts Award for Innovation, the city's highest honor awarded to working artists, as well as a fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities. Our production company is family-owned, fully licensed and insured, run out of a physical studio in the historic Josephine Butler Parks Center. This may go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: we take our work extremely seriously and completing this project is our absolute highest priority.

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    THANK YOU

    Our heartfelt thanks for contributing to City of Trees and showing your support. We'll give you a shout out on Facebook or Twitter (if you want) and add your name to the City of Trees website as a supporter (with your permission, of course).

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    DIGITAL LINK

    We'll send you a digital download link of City of Trees as soon as the film is finished!

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    DIGITAL LINK + MHP COMMUNITY SHORTS

    Get the digital download of City of Trees PLUS Community Shorts Vol. 1 created by Meridian Hill Pictures. This limited edition 2-DVD set features a diverse collection of award-winning documentary projects created between 2010 - 2012 by Brandon Kramer, Lance Kramer, and Ellie Walton. We'll mail you the DVDs--or come say hi and pick them up at the studio!

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    PRE-SALE DVD

    Reserve a copy of the DVD now! When City of Trees is finished, we'll send you a copy signed by director and producer — or pick it up directly from the MHP studio!

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    KARTEMQUIN DVDs signed by Gordon Quinn + City of Trees DIGITAL LINK

    A three-volume collection of Kartemquin Films featuring classics: Thumbs Down (1968); Parents (1968); Hum 255 (1969); What the Fuck are these Red Squares? (1970); Anonymous Artists of America (1970); Marco (1970). SIGNED BY RENOWNED FILMMAKER GORDON QUINN!!

    PLUS the digital download link of City of Trees

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    PICNIC in the PARK + DVD

    Let's have a picnic! Come to Meridian Hill Park on a Sunday this spring to enjoy the drum circle, meet the director and producer, and eat some delicious food (provided by us).

    PLUS get a signed DVD of City of Trees

    -exact date TBD-

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    SNEAK PEAK SCREENING + DVD

    Come to the Meridian Hill Pictures studio to see a sneak peak screening of City of Trees. Exact date TBD and transportation isn't included (sorry)

    PLUS a signed City of Trees DVD

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    LIMITED EDITION HOODIE + DIGITAL LINK

    The cozy limited edition pull-over hoodie features the City of Trees title design. We'll send you the digital link to the film too.

    Estimated FMV: $50

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    *NEW REWARD*

    SIGNED BOOK by VAN JONES + PRE-SALE DVD

    "The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems" written by CNN Crossfire co-host Van Jones. Get a SIGNED copy of his NYTimes best-selling book plus a City of Trees DVD signed by the producer and director.

    LIMITED QUANTITY!

    FMV: $35

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    FILM CONSULTATION + DIGITAL LINK

    Lance or Brandon will spend two hours consulting you on your own film, creating a social issue documentary, a media education project, or career advice for emerging filmmakers.

    PLUS the digital download link

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    DVD- INSTITUTIONAL LICENSE

    Show the film in your classroom! Institutional DVD copies come with a limited public performance license that allows classroom and library use, and on-campus screenings that are free for students of that school and not advertised to the general public.

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    COMMUNITY SCREENING + DVD

    Bring the film and the director & producer to your community. Brandon and Lance will attend a local screening, facilitate discussion, and answer questions. If you'd like a screening but aren't in the DC-area, we are happy to do the discussion over Skype.

    PLUS a signed copy of the DVD

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    VIP TICKETS TO DC PREMIER

    Attend the DC Premier of City of Trees as a VIP! As our special guest, you'll be invited to the premier pre-party, get a signed DVD, movie poster, City of Trees hoodie, and special acknowledgment at the event.

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    ASSOCIATE PRODUCER CREDIT

    See your name on the big screen! You'll be credited as an Associate Producer in the final film. Plus we'll throw in a signed DVD, movie poster, a City of Trees hoodie, and TWO VIP tickets to the DC Premier Screening.

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    SHORT DOC VIDEO

    To help promote City of Trees among past, current, and future client partners, we're offering a limited-time offer to produce a 3-10 minute video about your organization or community. This includes:
    - Pre-Production with the MHP director + producer to plan the video concept
    - One full-day (up to 10 hours) of filming interviews and b-roll
    - All post-production (including client feedback and output to DVD and the web) to produce the final cut

    (travel costs + time not included, FMV: $5,000)

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    EXECUTIVE PRODUCER CREDIT

    This is the big-time! Your name will appear in the opening credits AND you'll get two VIP tickets to the DC premier, a signed DVD and movie poster, and a City of Trees hoodie.

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    PROFESSIONAL VIDEO TRAINING

    As a promotion for City of Trees, we're offering a professional video-training session for your organization, business, school, or community! Learn how to use iPads to create and share meaningful digital stories.

    The 3-part training includes:
    - Three four-hour sessions covering planning, filming, and editing documentary videos
    - Professional guidance while your group creates up to two videos
    - Consulting on how to save and share the videos on social media
    - Plus, MHP will provide necessary iPad equipment and resource guides for the training

    Things to note:
    - training is for a maximum of five people
    - must be in the DC -area
    - this isn't a tax deductible donation (sorry!)

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Funding period

- (29 days)