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‘Greyland’ Movie Draws Attention to Downtown Youngstown Residents – Business Journal Daily

YOUNGSTOWN — “Greyland,” a documentary that examines Youngstown’s post-industrial core through the eyes of some of its residents, will premiere Aug. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Westside Bowl.

The 75-minute film is the work of Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque, Canadian documentary filmmaker, journalist and humanitarian worker.

It mainly focuses on Rocco Sait and Amber Beall Farris, who both stayed in town to succeed.

Sait is the founder of Greyland, a downtown store that offers quirky, vintage products sourced from cleanups of auctioned or abandoned homes in the city. Sicotte-Levesque named the film for the magazine.

The idea for the film was born out of a visit she made to the city in 2012. She shot her first footage of Sait around this time and knew she had something to go on.

Sicotte-Levesque returned periodically over the next decade to complete the film – giving him deep perspective as the residents’ lives changed.

It all started shortly after her return from Africa, where she was working for the Red Cross. A friend of hers, professor-author Justin Gest, was doing research in Youngstown for a book, “The New Minority,” about white working-class politics, and he implored her to visit.

“He said, ‘You have to come to Youngstown,'” she recalled. “After living in Sudan [where she also filmed a documentary]i was shocked to see the collapse of communities [in America]and the magnitude of the impact of the economic collapse [after 2008].”

She remembers the first time she and her cinematographer, Katerine Giguère, met Sait.

Amber Farris Beall works in her North Side home in a scene from the film.

“At the beginning, he was a little wary of us, because [he said] people still come to Youngstown to extract stories,” Sicotte-Levesque said. “But we talked and [I explained] that my films try to show aspects that you don’t see in mainstream media, perspectives that you never see. He saw our vision.

Sait, who is also a local musician, said he eventually agreed to be part of the film and came to see it as a worthwhile project.

“I was reluctant at first,” he admitted. “But once I got to know them, I changed my mind.”

Sicotte-Levesque never set up a scene or requested a reshoot, insisting that all footage be natural. The filmmaker was genuinely interested in the subject as well, Sait said.

He would not have agreed to be in a film designed to be watched by strangers.

“You know how a rich person could take a rusty cart and put it [on display]as if it were a spectacle, something to show to his friends, without ever having to use it? he asked, explaining his initial apprehension with an analogy.

Farris had previously been interviewed by Gest for his book and knew Sicotte-Levesque when she was first contacted by her.

“At first I was confused as to why anyone would care what I was doing,” Farris said. “But they interviewed me more [a video chat service] and said, ‘you are the person we want to talk to’.

Farris has a sense of pride in the film.

“Rocco and I are still doing what we were doing 10 years ago, trying to make things better but in different ways,” she said. “At the time [filming started], I was a 26 year old mother raising a 5 year old son. I had bought a house on the north side for $3,000. I was able to show my son a world where you can give back to your community and see results.

Farris has methodically renovated his old home, sprucing up the yard as well. She was a member of a neighborhood group and also served on the city’s charter review committee.

Farris then left Youngstown and took a position as director of the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles. She has since moved back to the North Side and is currently working as a teacher at East High School in Youngstown.

Farris said viewers can glean a message from the documentary.

“I hope they can see that you don’t have to wait for others to improve something,” she said. “You don’t have to wait until you’re established and your kids are grown up.”

The documentary is shot in a stark, unwavering style with an appreciation for the beauty of decadence and renaissance. Sicotte-Levesque said she and her cinematographer shared a vision for what it should look like.

“We didn’t want it to fall into a post-industrial type of porn,” she said. “There’s a lot of beauty there, and it’s irresistible.”

She admits it’s “not the most uplifting film,” but it can be inspiring.

“If you want to see people making a difference in their community, the common hero is here,” she said. “People can relate to Rocco and Amber. They face obstacles that we all face in different ways.

“Greyland” is Sicotte-Levesque’s third feature film; his other “The Longest Kiss,” which looks at youth in Sudan amid that country’s turmoil; and “When Silence Is Golden,” about the impact of Canadian gold mining on a small town in Ghana.

Sicotte-Levesque will attend the Youngstown premiere of the film at the Westside Bowl, 2617 Mahoning Ave., and engage the audience in a post-show question and answer session.

She has already participated in “Greyland” in several film festivals and won the award for best social and cultural feature at the Montauk Film Festival.

“Greyland” will also screen at the Harris Theater in Pittsburgh on August 15, the day before Youngstown screens.

For tickets to the Youngstown screening, click HERE.

Pictured above: Rocco Sait plays guitar at his thrift store Greyland in downtown Youngstown in a scene from the documentary ‘Greyland’.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.