Maker of Documentary about City to Screen Her Film at Playhouse

YOUNGSTOWN – Filmmaker Karla Murthy, whose documentary “The Place that Makes Us” looked at some Youngstown residents who decided to stay put and improve their hometown, will return to the city for a screening of the film.

The free screening will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at The Youngstown Playhouse as part of Lit Youngstown’s Fall Literary Festival. It will be the first public screening of the film in the city.

A panel discussion will follow the screening, with Murthy being joined by Alexandra Nikolchev, the film’s associate producer; Nate Offerdahl, co-owner of Westside Bowl; Bill Mullane, the veteran Valley arts leader; and A.J. Sumell, economics professor at Youngstown State University.
Justin Nigro of the Ohio Arts Council will be the moderator.

“The Place that Makes Us” premiered in November 2020 at a documentary film festival in New York. It has since been screened at several film festivals and premiered on PBS last year.

It was featured at the United Nations Better Cities Day, where it won first place, and is currently available on Amazon.com.

“The Place that Makes Us” largely focuses on Ian Beniston, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.; Tiffany Sokol of YNDC; and First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver.
Murthy said she is eager to return to the city, both to screen her film and to see what has changed.

The city and its post-industrial challenges have long been a magnet for filmmakers and news programs. Murthy understands the attraction.

“We come to Youngstown to understand what’s going on in America,” the New York resident said in a phone interview.

But Youngstown is a continuing story, she said, and those who choose to stay and foster its rebirth are creating a ripple effect, she pointed out.

Filmmaker Karla Murthy.

Murthy’s own introduction to the city was similar that of many in the media. She was working as a reporter for PBS Newshour and was sent to Youngstown in 2016 to do a story on how the election was playing out.

“[Understanding the city] was a process for me,” she said. “I had the same preconceived notions of what a post-industrial town is supposed to look like. But while doing a ‘walk and talk’ with [Beniston], I saw how adorable and amazing the houses were.”

Beniston drove her down a street on the south side and into Mill Creek Park, which stunned her for its beauty in the middle of urban surroundings.

“I had no idea that there was a waterfall here,” she said, relaying the surprise she felt in that moment. “I call that ‘my waterfall moment,’ when I realized that I had gotten this town wrong in my head, and there was so much more to it.

“That experience made me want to come back and make this film.”

Murthy said it’s important to tell the stories of cities like Youngstown and people like Beniston and Oliver.

“When you look at how our government is crippled by partisan politics, these [types of people] are what keep our country moving forward,” she said.

Murthy still does occasional reporting work for PBS Newshour. When asked if she will ever revisit Youngstown for a follow-up film, she said “You never know. Maybe I will find another story when I am there.”

Murthy’s film will be the fourth and final film of Lit Youngstown’s Fall Literary Festival film festival, each of which will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Here is the schedule:

  • “Peerless City,” a documentary about Portsmouth, Ohio, and its effort to forge a contemporary community identity, Friday, Oct. 21, 11 a.m. at the Youngstown Historical Center for Industry and Labor (the steel museum). A Q&A session with director Amanda Page and Youngstown State University film scholar Laura Beadling will follow.
  • “Proud Citizen,” a fictional film about a Bulgarian playwright who travels to Kentucky for the premiere of her autobiographical play who winds up exploring America on foot, Friday, Oct. 21, 3:30 p.m., the steel museum. A Q&A with film co-writer Katerina Stoykova and Beadling will follow.
  • “Exact Change,” the personal story of noted Cleveland actor, journalist and critic Christine Howey (formerly Dick Howey), Saturday, Oct. 22, 11 a.m., the steel museum. A Q&A with Howey and Beadling will follow.

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