Recent Graduate and Documentary Filmmaker Mecca Lewis on How Investigation and Play Infuse her Work
"Embracing skill-building in writing and research and new developments in my creative style, I allowed myself room to improvise and discover new things in every project I worked on."
Recent graduate Mecca Lewis 17F is a documentary filmmaker whose Div III investigated West Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere.” We sat down [virtually] with Lewis to learn more about her journey to Div III and how she used her experiences with Hampshire’s improv student group to bring curiosity and play to all her work.
Tell us a little about yourself and what attracted you to Hampshire.
I'm a documentary filmmaker from Baltimore, Maryland. After finishing one of my first documentary films of note during my senior year of high school, I thought Hampshire would be the best fit for me because it provides space for students to intersect the arts and their academics and encourages investigation and play during your time there. My personal filmmaking practice generally benefits from the structure of a Hampshire College education, as my work often presents intersections of identity and politics through exploration of place, and many of the conversations I have participated in and outside of class at Hampshire have stressed the importance and relevance of plurality in understanding subjects of the past and present.
Tell us a little about the journey to your Div III.
During Div I and II, I joined the NDC Improv troupe at Hampshire which set the tone for my first three years. Improvisation and play guided many of my projects and assignments at Hampshire. Embracing skill-building in writing and research and new developments in my creative style, I allowed myself room to improvise and discover new things in every project I worked on in my first three years. I took courses that may have seemed tangential to my concentration, but almost always found a way to tie them back to the skills I was looking to develop. When I didn’t though, professors and peers in my courses often gave me critical feedback to make my work, and the ideologies behind them, stronger. By the start of my Div III, I had an extensive portfolio of work from the preceding years that helped paint a picture of what I was capable of taking on during my Div III.
What was your Division III project?
My Div III project, Perspectives from Nowhere, is a work of documentary film about West Baltimore and the “Highway to Nowhere.” As the pandemic was still widely unpredictable, I worked remotely during the fall semester and used being at home as an opportunity to make a film about something I wanted to further explore since high school. I was curious about the mysterious and unfinished roadway that ran through the middle of West Baltimore and decided to center my Div around piecing that history together. The film uses first-hand accounts, captured conversations between present and past residents, and audio and visual snapshots of the area to paint a picture of West Baltimore and our relationships to the Highway to Nowhere.
Are there any faculty, programs, or resources you found helpful during the Div III process?
I found that engaging in conversation with staff and faculty at the college was not only fun but revealed a lot to me about what Hampshire can offer in terms of resources both on and off campus. Making time to talk with professors after class or staff with history at the college was a great way for me to get to know my community better and also get targeted advice and guidance on what resources would benefit me best. Hampshire surely is what you make of it, and making the most of it involves lots of communication and connecting with not only peers but the community as a whole.
What's been your favorite part of the Div III process or biggest moment of growth and learning?
Div IIIing during a global pandemic was...well...a moment for growth for sure. Having completed my first semester of Div III remotely from Maryland, I truly embraced the independent nature of the fourth year at Hampshire and got the experience of seeing a year-long project through from idea to presentation. Luckily, I was able to come back in the spring and share an editing suite with a close filmmaking friend and enjoy wrapping up my film and my college experience in person.
What are your plans for after Hampshire?
I plan to continue working on works of non-fiction/documentary film while also acting as the Archives Assistant at The Afro-American newspaper in Baltimore, MD. You can visit meccalewis.com for information about my Div III, Perspectives from Nowhere, and see more of my past work!
Stills from Perspectives from Nowhere: