With Great Appreciation to WILFREDO PEDRERO

by Brenna Cukier

“Describe Freddie in one word.”

This was the question I asked all of Freddie’s nearest and dearest, AKA: his co-workers at the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park.

Each time, the recipient of the question took a moment to reflect before carefully selecting a word. These were a few of their choices:

“Loving.”

“Caring.”

“Gentleman.”

“Superman.”

Their responses were included in a short video I made for CFL’s Celebrating Community fundraiser, which is an annual event that brings together CFL employees and benefactors to celebrate the non-profit’s impact on the community. Each year, one of CFL’s 250 employees is chosen to be honored at the event for their hard work and dedication. This year, that recipient was none other than Wilfredo Pedrero, who, of course, is the star of my documentary Super Freddie.

It was a Thursday night at the end of May. New York was just starting to get hot, but it was already humid enough to break a sweat on the walk from the subway to the event, which was held in a trendy for-rent loft in Soho.

Freddie certainly broke a sweat in his newly-purchased maroon suit, which was unforgiving in the city heat.

“I got a bunch of compliments on the train here,” Freddie told me, dabbing the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. “People thought I was going to a wedding or something like that.”

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After an unsuccessful attempt to procure a hot dog outside the venue, Freddie headed to the fifth floor of the building, compulsively straightening his bowtie using the reflection of the brass elevator doors on the way up.

Enter Freddie. A room full of CFL employees and supporters buzzed with chatter as they sipped on cocktails and nibbled hors-d’oeuvres. Julia Jean-Francois, the executive director of CFL, spotted Freddie out of the corner of her eye and immediately went to greet him.

“You look incredible, Freddie,” she beamed. Freddie humbly accepted her compliments before trying to find his closest friends, Smilie and Frank.

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Everyone spent the rest of the evening in anticipation of Freddie receiving his award. Not wanting to miss a moment, I mic’d up Freddie with a wireless lav as I captured video footage from across the room, so I was privy to his innermost thoughts for the duration of the evening. The thing is, Freddie has no innermost thoughts, because he says almost absolutely everything he thinks aloud.

“Is my bowtie on straight?”

“No, really — is it straight?”

“I wonder who all these people are?”

“Do you think I can get onto the roof?”

“How am I going to go to the bathroom with this microphone on?”

Another forty or so minutes went by with Freddie making his rounds in the room, all to the tune of his inner monologue and a mariachi band playing in the corner (Freddie: “why would they get a mariachi band for this event?”). About ten minutes before the scheduled presentation of Freddie’s award, he asked if we could go outside for a cigarette.

“I’m really overwhelmed,” he confided in me once we were in the elevator. “Nothing a cigarette can’t fix, though.” Outside, we stood in front of the building as Freddie watched more and more people dressed in suits (though none in maroon suits) enter the double doors.

“Who are all these people? Do I know them?”

He ran his hands over the many different pockets of his ensemble in a desperate search for his cigarettes. Relief washed over him as he located one, brought it to his lips and lit it in one swift motion.

“I never got an award like this before. I’m nervous.”

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We stood out there for what felt like a while, Freddie getting a puff of his cigarette in between mouthfuls of conversation, before someone had to come and get us because they had already started the presentation of his award.

“Oh, shoot!” Freddie said, as he stubbed out his cigarette and stowed away the remainder in his jacket pocket for later. We hurried upstairs and made it to the front of the crowd that had gathered to listen to Julia’s speech about Freddie.

For the first time all night, Freddie was silent as he listened to what Julia had to say about him and his work at CFL. At the end of her speech, Julia presented Freddie with a thick, glass placard engraved with the words, “CELEBRATING COMMUNITY AWARD…presented with great appreciation to WILFREDO PEDRERO.”

Then, the video I made for the occasion began to play:

When the screen faded to black, everybody angled themselves in the direction of Freddie (who had now sought shelter in the back of the room) and clapped. They clapped for a long time. Freddie humbly received their applause, followed by a round of hugs from his teary co-workers who had appeared in the video.

I had a hard time keeping tabs on Freddie for the rest of the night, because he was constantly being pulled into groups to take photos or shaking hands with people who were congratulating him. At one point though, just before the very end of the event, we ran into each other seeking refuge on a couch in the back of the room, which had a plate of obscure-looking appetizers placed on a small coffee table in front of it.

Freddie pointed at the plate, “What is this stuff? Some kinda vegetable?” He held up an ominous-looking mush on top of a cracker and inspected it.

“I can’t eat this stuff. I’m starving,” he semi-whispered to me. “I can’t wait to get back home and have some chicken parmigiana.” The crowds started to trickle out and not long after, Freddie decided it was OK to head home, too. But before he left, he obliged my request for one last interview (and cigarette) out on the street.

Freddie looked like he’d walked off a movie set; the cigarette hanging cooly between his fingers as he brought it to his mouth, standing in his maroon suit in front of candy-colored Soho buildings in the magic hour light.

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For a moment, he seemed like a completely different Freddie to me. Without his superhero t-shirt or his backpack of comic books, outside the confines of the food pantry without a box of groceries to shelve, it was like meeting Freddie for the first time in an alternate universe.

But the illusion soon faded when Freddie made a confession.

“I hope I don’t gotta wear another suit like this for a long time,” he said, backing up so my camera could take in the entirety of his outfit. “I know I look good but…these shoes are killing me!”

Brenna Cukier 2015-2016

Brenna was born in Tempe, Arizona but moved toBrenna_BioPic Auckland, New Zealand at age ten. She received her B.A. in journalism as a Robertson Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she reported for the student newscast for two years until she became the executive producer. During her sophomore year, she participated in a component of the Robertson Program known as the “semester switch,” when scholars spend a year in residence at their sister campus. In an effort to find a way to combine her newsroom skills with her passion for creative storytelling, she enrolled in three CDS courses. From that semester onward, she simultaneously pursued these programs at both universities.

By combining videography with her love for travel and her interest in NGOs, Brenna spent her summers documenting the work of various education-focused non-profits around the world, from Atlanta, Georgia, to the Azores Islands to Bali, Indonesia. This summer, Brenna will utilize support from the John Hope Franklin Award with the AJC Goldman Fellowship to make a connection between the work she will be doing at her internship with the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations in Warsaw, Poland with the story of her own family’s history. By re-tracing the steps of her Holocaust-survivor grandparents, she hopes to fill some of the gaps in her identity that she has been curious about since childhood.

Regarding the Lewis Hine Documentary Fellowship, Brenna says, “My past documentary experiences have validated that I thrive in new and challenging environments, and the Hine Fellowship is a new challenge in which I hope to produce meaningful and provocative work. If I have learned anything as a videographer, it’s that we don’t stop looking through a lens when we put the camera down, and I am excited to see how the Fellowship will contribute to my perception of the world and how my perception of the world will contribute to the lives of others.”

Brenna will be working with the Center for Family Life.

To see some of Brenna’s work, please visit her YouTube channel.

Nicholas Pilarski 2015-2016

Nicholas aims to create art that facilitates a space forNP development and growth through documentary practice. His work focuses on issues that surround social and economic marginalization He uses collaborative art-making approaches that engage with individuals and communities to create dialogue through self-expression.

With experience working in music, theater, and film, Nicholas uses a multidisciplinary approach to inform his work. He has performed in a range of theatrical productions that include acting as a Blue Man with the Blue Man Group in both Chicago and New York City, and has played percussion with various Grammy nominated artists. As an educator he has facilitated master classes on theater methodologies, and most recently, documentary theory. After finishing a degree from the University of Michigan in theater and film, he traveled to West Bengal, India, to work with and learn from the world’s largest Theatre of the Oppressed movement, Jana Sanskriti. There, he concentrated on how theatrical and social techniques developed by the group could influence new-media and documentary.

This experience was fundamental in Nicholas’s decision to obtain an MFA from Duke University in Experimental and Documentary Arts. While at Duke, he worked to connect performance methodologies, Theatre of the Oppressed practices, and computational media to create his thesis project, I, Destini. This animated film explored the poignant and imaginative perspective of a youth grappling with the effects of having an incarcerated loved one. The documentary came to life through a series of creative workshops with Destini (the film’s main character/co-creator) and her family. This process ultimately focused on how documentary practices could foster reciprocal and creative dialog while advocating for social reform. Nicholas hopes to continue to build upon the collaborative documentary process he began developing while working with Destini and her family.

Recent film screenings include Meet the Press at The Indie Grits Film Festival, Columbia, South Carolina; Of Remnants at The Cinedans Film Festival at the National Film Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Semi-Winged at Abstract Currents at the MoMA and MoMA-PS1, New York, New York.

About the Lewis Hine Fellowship Nicholas writes, “I am excited and honored to be a Lewis Hine Fellow. While supported by the fellowship I hope to help create a space where ideas can be shared freely and personal history can be documented through the process of collaborative self-expression. I can think of no greater privilege than to create work through the optic of activism and education that Lewis Hine helped pave almost a century ago.”

Nicholas will be working with the Brownsville Community Justice Center.

To see some of Nicholas’s work, please visit: http://www.nicholaspilarski.com

Sarah Stacke 2014-2015

Stacke_BioPIcSarah Stacke is a photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. One of her current documentary projects takes place in Western North Carolina where she photographs the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. Sarah is also working on Love From Manenberg, a long-form documentary project in Cape Town, South Africa, and another project in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she’s developing an archival repository in collaboration with photographers in Kinshasa.

In addition to making photographs, Sarah teaches and generates projects that ask viewers to think critically about cross-cultural visual literacy at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. Sarah has written about photography for The New York Times Lens Blog and the Nasher Museum. She is the curator of exhibitions including Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum and AfriPost: Epistolary Journeys of African Pictures.

In 2012 she received a Master of Arts from Duke University tailored to research photographic representations of sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora. Also at Duke, Sarah received certificates in African and African American Studies and Documentary Arts with a focus on multimedia.

Clients and publications include The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time Out New York, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, Marie Claire, YMCA, KARIBU Kinshasa, HOPE Cape Town, SONKE Gender Justice Network, and Yéle Haiti.

She began her career as an assistant to Burt Glinn of Magnum Photos.

About being a Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow, Sarah says, “This is an incredible opportunity to work with Exalt Youth, an organization that serves youth in the criminal justice system. As a photographer I’m interested in intersections of culture, history, and geography that have created marginalized communities. The disproportional incarceration rates within black communities have marginalized many people with devastating consequences. Exalt inspires youth at a critical crossroad to believe in their worth and transform themselves to reflect that worth and create lasting change. Documentary has the power to subvert the stereotypes surrounding incarcerated youth, inspire new ways of looking, and motivate people around the related social issues of racism and poverty. I can’t wait to get to work.”

For her fellowship, Sarah is working with Exalt Youth in Brooklyn.

To see more of Sarah’s work, visit: www.sarahstacke.com