Jason Polevoi '08 and Teddy Wachholz '10 follow three Chicago high school seniors in the documentary My Block, My Hood, My City.
Jason Polevoi '08 first met Chicago activist Jahmal Cole through his producer role at WGN’s food show, Chicago’s Best. Cole’s My Block, My Hood, My City program helps Chicago youth overcome isolation and poverty—including bringing kids around the city to try different foods. Cole and Polevoi hit it off and began discussing film projects to highlight the program. They landed on a documentary project of the same name: My Block, My Hood, My City, which follows three Chicago teenagers as they navigate the triumphs and difficulties of their senior years.
Polevoi stepped up as director and pulled in fellow Columbia alum Teddy Wachholz ’10 as Director of Photography. The pair returned to the South Loop in February to film an interview segment with fellow alum Lena Waithe '06. Polevoi and Waccholz talked with us about the importance of My Block, My Hood, My City’s message, and how they use their Columbia connections. My Block, My Hood, My City will be released in 2019.
What stands out about My Block, My Hood, My City’s subject matter?
Polevoi: People are interested in Chicago, but I think a lot of the perspective that people get is either through those NBC shows—Chicago Fire, Chicago PD—which are not an accurate representation of our city. And then through 24-hour news, which is also not an accurate representation of the city. Telling positive personal stories was really important to us. You can have a documentary and show some of the terrible things that are going on in the city, but you can also show some of the amazing things that are going on. It was really important to us—and to Jahmal and his program—that we tell a positive story about Chicago.
How do you use your Columbia degrees on this project?
Polevoi: The gear we’re using now is much different than what we learned 10 years ago in school, but the concepts never change. A class that you take about making westerns or about editing documentaries, all of that gives you a really good baseline to be able to tell stories with a camera.
Wachholz: We’re all behind the camera at some point on this project. We’re all editing together and it’s all boot straps. So, we’re editing on [Polevoi’s] laptop or in my basement on my computer. We’re wearing every hat we can for now.
Polevoi: It really is the spirit of independent filmmaking the whole time. We all work other jobs, or we used to work other jobs, or we’re currently looking for other jobs. We’ve been [working on My Block, My Hood, My City] since last February, and I think like it’s been kind of amazing what we have been able to accomplish with a very small amount of money and time.
How did you start working together?
Polevoi: We didn’t know each other at film school, but the fact that we both went to Columbia was a way that we connected. I was working for the Bulls. Teddy was doing contract video work and reached out to me because he saw the Columbia connection. Almost every job I’ve gotten in the industry, mostly in television, has been through a Columbia connection.
Waccholz: Columbia was the only school I applied to. I fell in love with Chicago when I was a kid. I figured out I liked video stuff when I was like 12 or 13, and I decided a path. I heard about Columbia, did a visit, and I was like, “Alright, well, I’m going here.” It’s a cliché, but I never looked back.