By GUY D’ASTOLFO
vindicator entertainment writer
The first generation of
Youngstowners with not even the slightest memory of the city as a prosperous steelmaking hub has come of age.
So says filmmaker Kevin DeOliveira. He believes that puts the city at a tipping point regarding its future. The new guard doesn’t have better days to look back on and therefore tends to look forward.
DeOliveira states his case in his documentary film, “Steel Valley: Meltdown.” The film serves as a primer for younger Valley residents about how the city arrived at its current condition. For older residents, it is a refresher course.
“Meltdown” will debut Friday at DeYor Centre for the Perfoming Arts.
Although the film is aimed at folks in their 20s, DeOliveira said people of all ages could learn from it and enjoy it.
The 51-minute piece is supported by interviews with at least a dozen community leaders and experts.
The film is divided into three chapters: past, present and future. In the first two, it puts the city’s past into perspective, and acts as a “state of the city” address.
In its final act, it takes a hopeful look at the future while weighing the possibilities. What happens next, according to Phil Kidd, one of the experts in the film, depends on whether the city and its residents can change their self-image to a positive one, and behave accordingly. Kidd is a community organizer with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and is extensively interviewed in “Meltdown.”
DeOliveira grew up in Niles and Champion, and is a 2006 graduate of Champion High School.
He is an electronic-media production major at Kent State University and has worked at Accent Media in Youngstown since he was 16. Accent mainly produces advertising video for its clients.
DeOliveira said he plans to submit “Meltdown” to film festivals after Friday’s premiere.
As a young person and a film student who wants to see Youngstown move forward, making the documentary was a natural development for him. “I’ve worked in downtown Youngstown for years and constantly come into contact with people and their ideas,” said DeOliveira. “I wanted to get them all in one room, because they don’t usually cross paths.”
In the first chapter of “Meltdown,” DeOliveira traces the city’s history. He begins with founder John Young, who wanted to exploit the area’s natural resources, and moves into its era as a rollicking industrial powerhouse and a magnet for industrialists and immigrants. The city’s sprawling mills began closing in the late ’70s. By the mid-1980s, they were a thing of the past and the downward spiral began.
Why the history lesson? Because many younger people need it, said DeOliveira.
“My generation is severely disconnected from this area’s history,” he said, explaining that for someone to know where he’s heading, he first must know where he’s been.
His goal is that the film will get people excited about the city and involved in shaping its future.
“The image of all of Northeast Ohio is that it’s beaten down,” said DeOliveira.
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we can’t just give up on it. We are at a tipping point. We must either take the reins and change it, or let it go.”
“Meltdown” opens with audio from an old broadcast about the city’s thriving steel mills, while the camera pans across the current reality: empty, rusting factories sitting on weed-choked land.
Among those interviewed to give historical or sociological perspectives are Youngstown State University professor Sherry Linkon; and Kent State’s professor Kenneth Bindas and instructor Tim Roberts. Others include Mayor Jay Williams; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th; United Autoworkers local union shop chairman Rich Rankin; and Joshua Reichard, author of “Rust to Renewal.”
In the segment on the future, Ryan sheds light on the area’s inroads into becoming a center of green technology equipment manufacturing.
Windmill parts are being made at Parker Hannifin in Youngstown, while solar panels are produced at Thomas Strip Steel in Warren.
The Youngstown Business Incubator and its biggest success story, Turning Technologies, are also discussed, as is the city’s recent inclusion on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 10 Cities to Start a Business list.
DeOliveira was assisted in making “Meltdown” by Dan Mizicko of Vienna and Frank Miller of Columbus. Sponsors include Multi-Media Farms, Canfield; Accent Media and Keynote Media, Youngstown; the HOPE Foundation; and the Youngstown Symphony Society, which donated the rental cost for Ford Family Recital Hall.