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Google Glass Film Spotlights Crown Heights

A first-person look at the neighborhood’s Hasidic and West Indian communities

Lauren Schwartzberg
December 23, 2013

On a Sunday evening earlier this month, the Mister Rogers in Crown Heights played host to the neighborhood’s primary residents—West Indian Blacks with waist-length dreads and baggy jeans, and Hasidic Jews in black hats and sheitels. They mingled while huddling over tables stocked with fresh bread smothered in hummus and cups full of Jamaican-style coconut and pastrami soup. Photos of Crown Heights lined the restaurant’s walls, alternating between depictions of Yeshiva boys on a school bus with Rastafarians playing basketball in Sterling Park.

In the corner of the room sat the first available beta version of Google Glass, given to 10,000 chosen ones in late August as part of the Glass Explorer program. The futuristic device is small and somewhat obscure, but it’s the reason we’re all here: the premiere of Project 2×1, the first-ever Google Glass documentary, which explores the lives of the Hasidic and West Indian communities living side-by-side in the Brooklyn, N.Y. neighborhood of Crown Heights.

The film isn’t shot solely with Glass, but the device is definitely the star. “It’s given us incredible access,” said Hannah Roodman, the film’s director. “I could not go up to the alter and film the preacher, and I definitely couldn’t do it from where he’s standing with the Bible.” The technology has created a new point-of-view angle: first person extreme.

“It’s the best way to connect people, cultivate more understanding and really show them your world through your own eyes,” Roodman explained. “To be able to weave together a portrait of our neighborhood through so many different perspectives makes it a much more intimate experience.”

Sharing perspectives and experiences has become increasingly important in the weeks leading up to Project 2×1’s release. Over the past month, more than 10 so-called “knockout” attacks have taken place in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, targeting identifiably Jewish victims. Although the film wasn’t made with these attacks in mind—it was filmed long before “knockout” was anything more than a basketball game to New Yorkers—it embraces Rev. Al Sharpton’s advice that Jews and non-Jews “unite in creating advanced educational opportunities.” Grassroots projects like the film depict a non-violent reality of diverse communities in Brooklyn and promote mutual understanding.

“It’s one thing to have a community, but it’s another to bring two communities together. It’s an empire,” Freddy Harris, a steel pan drummer, explained in the film. “That’s what we’re creating out here in Crown Heights.”

Project 2×1—both the movie and interactive website, which will be continuously updated with shorter clips—takes viewers inside the daily lives of the West Indian and Hasidic communities, unveiling some striking parallels along the way. While many married Hasidic women cover their hair in public, for example, Rastafarian women wrap up their dreads because the hair is “too beautiful to be seen.” And the West Indian Day Parade, we learn, is a celebration as grand as a Simchat Beit Hashoeivah, if a bit more colorful.

It’s much easier to say, ‘Walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you judge their journey’ than to actually borrow a pair of shoes. But with Google Glass, the shoe always fits, and Project 2×1 gives everyone the chance to take the tour.

Lauren Schwartzberg is an intern at Tablet Magazine.