Andrew Smith sits on his porch in Waverly and recalls a time when African Americans weren’t allowed to live in the neighborhood.
“It’s a nice neighborhood, I wanted to live up in this area when I was young … back in the ’60s,” Smith said as a camera recorded him.
“What was it like back then?” asked Myles Michelin, who was interviewing Smith.
“We wasn’t allowed up here,” Andrew answered while chuckling.
The interview is part of a YouTube docuseries, “My Block Doc,” created by Michelin, where he gives his audience an inside look at the neighborhood he has lived in since 2017. The series has become an outlet for his creativity and a way to give voice to members of his community.
“My goal with all of this is to try to show other people that it’s more than what you see on the news. These are real people with real lives, they’re not just a bunch of bad people,” Michelin said. “Everybody’s not running around here with a gun, trying to rob you or trying to kill you.”
Michelin got into filmmaking to fulfill his school service-learning hours to graduate, but ended up loving it.
After joining the City Schools Student Media Team internship offered through his high school, Michelin met his mentor Jim Mahjoubian, who taught him the basics of videography and filmmaking. It was when Michelin joined Mahjoubian at the Baltimore youth film arts program that he created the docuseries.
“When he joined the Baltimore youth arts program, that’s where I feel like he really began to take off,” Mahjoubian said. “When it came to the ‘My Block Doc,‘ he really had to see that he had to be responsible for every part … that was something that helped him feel like he can accomplish things on his own.”
Michelin comes from a family of visual artists, so cameras were nothing new to him. The 21-year-old grew up in Pigtown in Southwest Baltimore with his mother, Carol Ott, who briefly did professional work as a photographer in the past. Both of Michelin’s grandparents on his mother’s side were also professional photographers.
“One of our neighbors actually gave him his first camera, it was a little point-and-shoot digital camera,” his mother said. He would go with me and my friends when we would go on photoshoots, so he was always exposed to [photography], but like a lot of people his age he ended up being a lot more interested in video.”
The Waverly neighborhood — which gets its name from famous author Sir Walter Scott’s first novel, “Waverley” — is listed in the National Register of Historic Places because of the portion of Victorian houses that have been preserved since the late nineteenth century and features some of the city’s most elegant jigsaw and barge board woodwork, according to the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
These houses can be seen in Michelin’s films as he walks though his community.
After graduating from City Neighbors High School, Michelin attended community college, but shortly after decided to take a break from school and focus on filmmaking.
Michelin has created a deep connection with his community through his films and uses them to tell important stories that are often overlooked and never shared, a skill that Mahjoubian says will separate him as a filmmaker.
“[Michelin] has a unique ability to know what stories in Baltimore can and should be told,” he said. “As a filmmaker, I think his biggest potential and strength is in seeing Baltimore through his own lens and trying to find the right stories.”
In the most recent episode of his docuseries, Michelin speaks with Smith and another neighbor, Z Smith (no relation). They talk about what life is like currently living in Waverly.
Andrew Smith says that Waverly is a much more diverse area than when he was growing up and talks about how his current neighbors help shovel his snow, cut his grass and deliver him groceries.
Z said that she was blessed to land in the neighborhood around the time the pandemic started. She remembers being welcomed into the community and meeting her neighbors after starting a communal garden that she used to provide fresh produce for anyone in the community who needed it.
“I was able to start a community garden which allowed me — during the time when everyone else was totally isolated — to go out and meet all my neighbors because we were just gardening outside.”
Michelin knows that the neighborhood also has its problems. In the first episode of his docuseries, he points out the Waverly Tavern, where he says he was subjected to seeing people get drunk at 8 a.m. as he commuted to school.
“There’s crime here, of course, and it is one of the most dangerous cities in America. And it’s always been on that list. But at the same time, I feel like you’ve got to come here, and really experience it for yourself,” he said.
“What I do is try to show a lighter side of Baltimore that maybe a lot of people haven’t seen before, or maybe some people have forgotten because all the negative that’s been piled up and in your face for so long,” Michelin said.
Looking to the future, Michelin is not exactly sure where he wants filmmaking to take him, but he hopes that he can continue to inspire his city through his art. The third episode of “My Block Doc” is set to be shot in August and released the following month, according to Michelin.
“I’m 21, so I don’t really know where I want to be in 20, 30 years, but hopefully [filmmaking] brings me some stability,” he said. “I think that if one person is inspired by my work, or loves what I do, it’s good for not just the city, but for the rest of the world. I think that’s the goal that I want to achieve.”