An AT&T New Media Fellow, Caroline Sagalchik ’13 spent this past winter and semester creating a documentary called “Of Sand and Fur” (above… and you should definitely check it out) about the Russian-Jewish immigrant community Brigthon Beach, Brooklyn. Brighton Beach is one of the largest Russian-speaking immigrant communities in the country. Through the fellowship, Caroline was able to interact with the community in Brighton Beach and reach her audience by engaging with the topic of assimilation.
The documentary was recently featured on the Watson Institute’s website.
The project was especially meaningful because she had grown up with exposure to Russian and American cultures. Here’s a bit on the experience in Caroline’s words, after the jump.
I came into my project thinking I would be able to answer one set of questions, but I soon realized that that would not be possible. So I let myself proceed without a concrete lens, open to any potential stories. I walked around the neighborhood for many days filming everything around me. Sometimes it was met with hostility. A girl with a nose piercing, walking around outside without a hat, scarf, and gloves in the winter, but instead with a camera, garnered disapproving attention from some of the older generation who make up the majority of the community. At one point I was sitting on the front-steps of an abandoned building and a woman came up to me quite flustered, and said to me in Russian, “It pains me to look at you sitting there on that cold step. You should know better than to do that. You’re freezing your ovaries!” In that sense the image of me easily making connections with people on the street did not play out as planned. I did meet one of the people I interviewed for the film this way, but most of the people I talked to already knew me or my family, which actually allowed for more candid conversations from the get-go. I was able to get a nuanced picture of the community, a strange pocket of America where two cultures exist at odds and in tandem. As I personally grew up with those two cultures, the opportunity to document this unique region was a very meaningful experience.