The likelihood that the owners of neighborhood businesses live in the community “is very minute,” McNeill says. “They’re living in Virginia and other places.”
Walton acknowledges McNeill’s concerns. “Maybe that’s something that would be good to bring up in the piece,” she says. But she cautions him not to assume that all liquor and convenience store owners are outsiders or, if they are, that they wouldn’t hire people from the neighborhood.
Like Walton, they could have been born and raised in the District. Like her, they could have decided to remain and work here. And, like her, they could have decided to give back to the community that gave to them.
That commitment to her home city has won Walton acclaim, and last year the Mayor’s Arts Award for outstanding emerging artist, which is presented by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
“Ellie has incredibly strong community ties. She’s a great film documentarian with exceptional skills in telling stories that are true, real and touching,” says Moshe Adams, director of grants and legislative affairs at the commission. “And she’s able to teach and allow others to explore their creativity. She’s tied to the people.”
Her documentaries “Chocolate City” and “Igual Que Tu (Same As You)” put a human face on the polarizing issues of gentrification and immigration in the nation’s capital. They also are used as teaching tools at area universities. Her recent project “Fly by Light,” which debuts Thursday at the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Mount Pleasant, chronicles the eight-day journey of 15 D.C. teens as they confront issues they face growing up in the city.
Walton is a full-time filmmaker with Meridian Hill Pictures in Mount Pleasant, working on a documentary about the effect of the federal stimulus bill on the D.C. Green Corps and job creation in local neighborhoods.
The studio reached out to Walton, 30, after hearing about her work as co-director of a 2011 film about the residents of St. Elizabeths Hospital. In “Voices From Within,” which Walton directed with her sister Joy Haynes, five residents use cameras to shoot their own video diaries. Walton’s signature method of building relationships with residents and making them co-creators of their stories synced with Meridian’s mission of participatory filmmaking.
Before joining Meridian, Walton says she was barely getting by, living off small arts grants and income from occasional promotional work for local companies and other projects. Luckily, her godfather bought the house she grew up in and doesn’t demand the amount in rent that Mount Pleasant apartments go for.