Julia Galime, Utica Phoenix
Walking into TW Video Productions Saturday night it’s clear that brothers Matt and John Ossowski are hard at work putting the finishing touches on their self-made, self-funded documentary reUtica. The documentary is to debut at Munson Williams Proctor Institute this Tuesday, December 14th at 6:30PM, after a presentation led by Cornell University, a free event that is open to all. ReUtica is a brothers Ossowski production that captures the essence of truly caring about the future of a city and its people while promoting a sustainable lifestyle that is easily attainable and eloquently “rust to green.” Taking cues from John Ossowski’s experience working with the sustainable initiative in Portland, Oregon, the film focuses on the ability to reduce, reuse, and recycle everything from time spent watching television alone to the windows and boards from an old Victorian home you might see on Rutger Street.
Matt and John Ossowski, both Utica natives, see an obtainable future for Utica in a way that people are not yet talking about or just simply have not perceived the idea as being possible. Their idea is to take everything that can be reused and recycled, from condemned buildings to old furniture, and create a sustainable community that would also create economical freedom and prosperity. John, who is now completing his second Master’s degree in social work from Portland State, started having ideas about sustainability in Utica during his fieldwork placements in Portland while working with Our United Villages and Groundwork Portland.
Groundwork Portland is an organization that reuses land and turns it into something useful and beautiful. Groundwork will take a vacant lot and turn it into a playground, park, or community garden, like the gardens you might have seen on Linwood Place which are run by For The Good, Inc. Our United Villages, a more holistic organization, starts from the roots and brings materials and initiative full circle. They focus on reusing old building materials and from that, run a deconstruction center and rebuilding center. With the rebuilding center, they also have a store in which old furniture and furnishing are available for purchase. Not only does their rebuilding center help to reuse old materials and beautify a city, it also creates jobs.
While home this past July for the Boilermaker, John read about Cornell’s Rust to Green initiative in the Utica Phoenix. This got the ball rolling and he thought, “Why don’t we have anything like this in Utica.” John started bouncing ideas off with Matt about the sustainable initiative and the idea to create reUtica emerged. While remaining careful to examine all angles of the initiative John realizes that, “not everything is a bed of roses in Portland, but it’s time to do something more.”
Matt, while still remaining in Utica, started working with John in Portland on the film, sending raw footage of shots around Utica. John had to diligently hand write notes to determine time stamps and in and out points on the clips. The two brothers saw the light in working far apart as Matt explained, “the cool thing about the time difference was that I would go to bed and he would work on it, and then when I would wake up I could work on it,” while on the flip side John explained that he is “really glad to be here working with Matt now because we can both talk about it and read about it in real time.”
John flew in from Portland on Thursday and the two have been in the editing studio since. It’s clear that the brothers Ossowski feel that reUtica is something worth fighting for. They see a future in Utica because there are many young people here that love the city. Matt explained that, “young people are into doing things with a purpose instead of just doing them for money because things have gotten so bad. I think that younger people have the energy still, the old people just want to see dollar signs, the young people still have the energy to do work.” John fired back saying, “in the long term the dollar signs will follow, but you also don’t need to look to that because you’ll be creating a better environment to live in.”
Having been working miles apart for more than a year, the brothers had to fund this project entirely on their own. The city of Utica is not involved with the film and in fact, city officials probably know little about it. The budget for the film was less than a thousand dollars and in light of trying to reduce and reuse, the brothers noted that, “it didn’t take much more than plane tickets and some beer money, our time was the most valuable thing”. After watching a few sneak previews of the documentary, I must argue that it is far more than plane tickets and beer money. It looked so great on the small television screen that I periodically asked if I could watch it all, but of course I have to wait until Tuesday.
John went on that, “we had to fit this into our own lives, it’s not like we had some grant to do it,” which is another aspect of the initiative that makes it perfect for Utica. Creating something like a rebuilding center in Utica, or the entire Oneida Herkimer region, would mean that old buildings are being reused, land is being beautified, jobs are being created and it would be self-sustainable, without the need of money from other agencies. Matt pointed out that, “tearing down a house, whatever cost it took to make that, that cost is still there. You need to improvise and be clever and be creative. Reuse the old wood from a house you tear down. There are a lot of things to be done around here and it doesn’t take a lot of money or cleverness, it’s right there in front of you.” And when considering Utica’s own Oneida Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, the brothers explained that “they bring in about 2.5 million a year just from recyclables, think about how much more you can make from reusing when the processing would be much less.”
John, who expresses outright excitement and passion for the whole initiative on his sleeve, showed me that they even used recycled props throughout the documentary. John’s old Polish notebook, which he thought Matt would hate, is used throughout the documentary to create segues. With hand written chapter headers and yellow paper, it gives the film an after school special feel, making it fun and motivating while teaching valuable lessons. John told of a personality test they took in Portland, “We have the exact opposite styles which is really cool because what Matt sees has helped me become more effective with communication and what I see helps Matt to be more creative.” Matt in response said, “this is one of the most positive pieces of film work I’ve put together, most of my stuff is dark,” and if you have ever met Matt, you know what he means.
With a firm belief in the project and in people Matt concludes, “it’s the things that people can do make them valuable, the human capitol,” and John shoots hopeful words one more time saying, “we need a long term sustained commitment, it’s not easy but it’s worth it.”
Tuesday December 14th, at Munson Williams Proctor Institute, reUtica debuts after a presentation by Cornell and another film called reUse it, by bringrecycling.org. For more information on the projects in this article you can go to ourunitedvillages.org, groundworkportland.org, or reutica.com. And on an a final note, I would like to say that, after hanging out in TW Video Productions, on 228 Roosevelt Ave, Utica, run by Thomas Wszalek, whom the brothers were extremely grateful to and wanted to thank, it is apparent that everybody in Utica needs to see reUtica Tuesday night. If you care about Utica, if you love Utica, if you plan to live here for the next five years or maybe even forever, and even if you do not, reUtica will change your mind, it will give you hope, it will make you smile: please go see this film.