What Makes a Community Work?

Director Rebekah Wingert-Jabi digs into the history of her own community with Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston, VA.

 

Rebekah Wingert-Jabi is an award-winning director and producer with over 14 years of experience in film and television. Rebekah’s most recent film, My Neighborhood, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012, was broadcast on Al Jazeera English, and released online by The Guardian before being recognized with the prestigious Peabody Award. She achieved a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and was awarded the Thomas Bush Cinematography Scholarship. Rebekah grew up in Reston and returned to live there in 2009.

 

Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston, VA screening took place at the National Building Museum on Thursday, March 24th at 6:30 pm.

 

EFF: How did you get involved in filmmaking?

Rebekah Wingert-Jabi: I studied still photography in high school and loved it. I felt I could express myself best through a visual medium. When I went to study in China as part of my undergraduate education my parents gave me a Hi-8 camcorder. Once I saw the power of the moving image and sound, there was no turning back. Growing up, I had memorable and powerful emotional reactions to films. When I realized I might some day give audiences powerful emotional experiences about issues I care about, I felt convinced this was the medium for me.

EFF: What drew you to this particular project?

RWJ: My parents moved to Reston, VA in 1973, only a few days after I was born. They wanted to take part in Reston’s promise of a different life than the typical American suburban experience of single-family homes surrounded by picket fences. Because of their hunger for something better, I grew up in a community with plenty of open natural space to play and explore. I had relationships with all of my neighbors and had friends from all walks of life.

I knew I was happy, but I didn’t understand that my childhood experience had been carefully crafted by planners and developers. Years later, when I was a teenager, my family moved into a single-family home surrounded by a fence in a nearby suburb. I was excited to live the “American dream” and surprised when that dream didn’t pan out. I found myself feeling isolated and disconnected. I only knew two of my neighbors. I had to drive some distance to experience nature and my community wasn’t nearly as economically or racially diverse as it had been in Reston. That’s when I started to think about what made Reston special and wonder about the people behind its design.

There aren’t too many communities in the US that have a founder. Reston is one of them. I knew Robert Simon’s name growing up. He wasn’t living in Reston at the time, but he was a kind of celebrity among Restonians. He was a town father figure. But for as much as he was a household name in Reston, I hardly knew anything about his vision for our community and how it influenced my daily life.

When I moved back to Reston as an adult in 2009, residents were preparing for the 50th anniversary. It was the perfect chance for me to dig into the history of my community and its founder. As a filmmaker, documentary was the natural way for me to explore this history. One of my first steps was to interview Bob.

EFF: Why do you feel its important to preserve parks and/or protect wildlife?

RWJ: Growing up in Reston I could walk out of my house and within minutes be walking on a path surrounded by nature.  Some of my most precious childhood memories were of boating on lakes, exploring streams, and sitting quietly in a forest observing wildlife.  I didn’t really appreciate how important this was to my life until I left Reston and lived in places where parks and wildlife were not so accessible. Without that day-to-day experience of nature, I felt something really important was missing from my life. Being able to experience nature and wildlife gave me a sense of balance in my life, a sense of humility in the face of the power of nature, and an appreciation for the importance of being outside surrounded by it. I think its very important that people get hands-on experiences with parks so they can gain an appreciation for what nature brings to our lives. Hopefully this will help encourage an interest in preserving nature for future generations and inspire developers to plan for the preservation of our natural habitats.

EFF: What’s the one takeaway that you want potential viewers to walk away with?

RWJ: I hope potential viewers, including residents, designers and developers, will take away the idea that setting clear social objectives for the allotment of space during the planning and redevelopment of towns/cities/villages—such as planned open space to preserve natural habitats, or construction of plaza space to foster a sense of community interaction—not only enhances our way of life but also, as Reston shows, can significantly increase the marketability of a place.

EFF: What challenges did you face in the process of producing the project?

RWJ: It was challenging to not only fit 50 years of an entire community’s history into one film, but also to strike the appropriate balance between the historical background and the implications of that history on current issues. In the spirit of Reston activism, it was very important to me that the film would address some of the struggles the community is currently facing in regards to maintaining affordable housing during this period of redevelopment. It was equally important to explain where that impulse and concern came from, linking directly back to Bob’s original principles that called for people of all income levels to be able to live and work in the same community.

 

Register for the Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston, VA screening here.

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