‘Boston in Flux’ Opens a Window into Boston’s Transformation

Boston in Flux, the latest collaborative effort between Boston-area filmmakers Paul Villanova and Richard Hawke, explores the history and evolution of the city both men call home.

The three-minute, 13-second long short consists of archived, black-and-white footage of iconic locations around the city, overlaid with similar scenes in modern color, set over captivating, period-style backing sound. Like the city it chronicles, Boston in Flux is an intricate balance between historical footage and modern postproduction, from its silent film-style cutscenes to its distribution on YouTube.

Such a style of film is relatively unexplored—that’s part of the reason Villanova wanted to pursue the project that focused more on the untold story of Boston.

What Villanova and Hawke see every day is a strange yet enrapturing paradox within Boston that Villanova deemed “inescapable,” a constantly changing city with deep historical roots.

Hawke expressed interested in bringing the past and the present of Boston into dialogue, and comparing the two.  


 

“[You can] be looking for the T-stop and be standing on the site of the Boston Massacre,” he said. “So I think that’s a unique and really cool thing.”


 

Villanova called the short “a labor of love,” driven largely by his interest in Boston’s unique past. While many colonial-era cities have historical significance, Villanova was quick to point out that Bostonians themselves identify with their history more than their counterparts do in other urban centers. He cited Boston’s intrinsic value as a historical site.

“[You can] be looking for the T-stop and be standing on the site of the Boston Massacre,” he said. “So I think that’s a unique and really cool thing.”

Unique and cool, perhaps, but also challenging. Researching Boston’s recent history in preparation for production proved difficult, and securing archived footage for use in the film was an unexpected obstacle. Digitized footage of Boston from the early 20th century is rare and difficult to license.

When actually filming Boston in Flux, however, both men were excited than annoyed by the unique challenges the project posed.

Boston in Flux represents Villanova’s first nonfiction, nontraditional project. His previous works, including the short films Grudge Match, A Briefcase Full of Knives, and Octopus, all fall into the genre of orthodox fiction-narratives. Boston in Flux, according to its creators, “flirts more with documentary.” Hawke described the challenging camerawork as one of the reasons he wanted to create the film.

One of the most pertinent aspects of the project is the film’s modern-day role and relevance. Both filmmakers noted that Boston is undergoing a new era of gentrification. Evidence points to neighborhoods like Charlestown and South Boston catering more to 20-something college graduates than to the heavily-accented Bostonians of years past. Since the turn of the century, more than 20 percent of neighborhoods with median incomes and housing prices under 40 percent of Boston’s average were undergoing significant gentrification.

Villanova and Hawke did not seek to debate viewers on the benefits and downsides of gentrification. Instead, the film raises discussion about urban evolution.

Villanova stated that “the film tries to ask a question” about Boston’s ever-shifting demographic and physical landscapes. Whether the rise of skyscrapers and development of real estate portrayed in Boston in Flux is a conflict or a natural course of events is left up to the viewer to decide for him or herself.

“We’re not approaching the film saying ‘gentrification is bad’ or ‘gentrification is good’ or ‘big buildings are bad’ or ‘big buildings are good,’” the filmmakers said. “We’re saying, ‘look at this paradox, what do you think?’’’

What Boston in Flux represents for them is not just a provocative discussion on the city’s past life and future direction. It’s also representative of Bostonians themselves—young professionals juxtaposed with generational residents. While what’s next for Boston may be unclear at the moment, Villanova and Hawke have a clear idea of what the future holds in store for themselves.

Though no individual project is currently in the works for either, both men plan to focus their efforts on a burgeoning filmmaker’s collective based in Somerville. When asked what his future plans were, Villanova said the collective is important to support and develop independent filmmakers, and keep the spirit of filmmaking alive.

Featured Image by Paul Villanova & Richard Hawke