The People in Your Neighborhood
America, 'One Square Mile' at a time
There are familiar ways for the armchair traveler to experience far-flung places – Lonely Planet guidebooks, a novel such as Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, a half-hour with Rick Steves or Anthony Bourdain. But Fort Worth-based Brazos Film and Video takes a unique angle at traveloguing – by celebrating the quotidian in its ongoing online documentary series One Square Mile.
A Lone Star Chapter Emmy Award winner, the series shows viewers various cities, large and small, in a very specific way: It focuses on a single square mile in each city, finding people who live and work in that area to tell their stories. Austin is the newest featured city in the series' second season, joining Hanalei, Hawaii; New Orleans; Wilton Manors, Fla.; Barrow, Alaska; and Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico.
"There are 271 square miles in Austin, Texas," begins One Square Mile's written introduction to the Austin webisode. "Each one tells a different story." The square mile selected for the Austin shoot "encompasses the northwestern edge of south central Austin and includes a portion of the Colorado River known as Lady Bird Lake and the Bouldin Creek and Zilker neighborhoods." When laid out on a north-south grid, it forms a diamond shape.
Selecting Austin's representative square mile was no easy task, director Carl Crum explained by e-mail, and it was especially difficult in a vibrant city like Austin, where he grew up and returns to regularly.
"We looked at square miles all over the city: Downtown, the new high-rise culture, Sixth St., East Austin, South Congress, Old West Austin, Hyde Park, the UT area, far south, far north. We tried to fit as much of Austin in to the mile as we could, hence the reason we tilted the mile to include both Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake."
While Crum does not consider himself a journalist, he credits the late, great writer and oral historian Studs Terkel as an inspiration, citing Terkel's pioneering "idea of using the microcosm of the individual to tell the story of the larger society," Crum said.
Each One Square Mile webisode has a sort of leaf-blowing-in-the-wind quality – the camera follows a leaf until it alights. Then, another leaf takes off and focuses your attention in another direction. In this case, the "leaves" are people. It could be a phrase, a location, or simply an idea that creates movement to the next voice.
"What we really like about this project is that it strips away a lot of the baggage that usually comes with the genre," Crum said. By "we," he means his three-person crew: Crum on camera and sound; his wife, Betsy, who produces and does location coordination; and their 5-year-old daughter, who always travels with them and is there "soaking it all in." But soaking in what, exactly?
"We don't tell viewers what is the best restaurant in New Orleans, or the history of Ellis Island, but we do show what it's like to run a restaurant in New York City. Ultimately, the series is about people." At 15 minutes each, webisodes include at least 20 people from a cross section of the selected area.
"Each square mile has a different story, but there is a certain continuity between each of them. We have found that people have similar goals, fears, and thoughts no matter where they live," Crum said. "Their issues may be specific to an area, but their journey seems to be universal."
The Austin episode of One Square Mile, along with others in seasons one and two, is available at www.onesquaremile.tv.