The Atlanta Way' documentary filmmaker discovers why 'gentrification' is a four-letter word
Full-length documentary debuts this fall on Atlanta's controversial 20-year effort to purge the city of its low-income housing projects
King Williams didn't set out to make an epic documentary film about Atlanta's controversial 20-year effort to purge the city of its low-income housing projects. It just sorta happened.
Six years ago, he was a Georgia State University junior tasked with coming up with a project for an urban policy and sociology class on metropolitan Atlanta. So he chose to look into one of the great mysteries of his childhood by researching what happened to East Lake Meadows, the former housing project located on the edge of East Atlanta and Decatur, where many of his boyhood friends had lived. "I just remember it being there in Decatur as a child, and at one point it just wasn't there anymore. So I was like, I'm going to do a paper on it." That paper grew legs as he met other Atlanta natives in his class who liked the idea. They decided to get a camera with the idea of shooting enough footage for a two-to-three minute complementary doc. A month later, they had 15 hours of footage. "We were like, we should really try to make this an actual documentary."
Williams today is a 28-year-old graduate with a resume of production experience working under big dogs like Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese, yet he still doesn't consider himself a full-fledged filmmaker. After years of trial-and-error stops and starts, however, he and his original crew of GSU classmates are narrowing in on a release date for their full-length documentary. The Atlanta Way attempts to make sense of all the hairy issues of class, race, and culture that have grown out of the Atlanta Housing Authority's nationally recognized model for decentralizing inner-city poverty. It includes interviews with residents of some of the last housing projects to be demolished in Atlanta (Herndon Homes, Bowen Homes, Palmer House, Roosevelt House, Hollywood Courts, Bankhead Courts), as well as interviews with journalists, social advocates, power brokers, and politicians, including former mayoral candidate Mary Norwood and Kasim Reed, a year before he decided to run for the city's top office.
With a tentative release scheduled for fall in Atlanta, Williams talked in advance about why he struggled to create an uncompromising look at the issue, why "gentrification" is still a dirty word to some, and why he feels Atlanta's sense of culture has taken the biggest hit in the wake of all the change.
This is a topic that inspires so many opposing views, in Atlanta and across the country. Did you set out to make a film that would speak to both sides or is that impossible?