Jewish Filmmaker Goes Uptown

Mark Blackman Debuts Self-Funded Flick 'Welcome to Harlem'

Like Jewish Camp: Filmmaker Mark Blackman put his experience as a Jewish camp counsellor to work organizing his new film ‘Welcome to Harlem.’
Courtesy Blackman's Block Productions
Like Jewish Camp: Filmmaker Mark Blackman put his experience as a Jewish camp counsellor to work organizing his new film ‘Welcome to Harlem.’

By Ben Sales

Published November 17, 2011.
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Like most Jewish camp staff members over 21, Mark Blackman isn’t in it for the money.

Blackman, 27, enjoys working with kids at Maryland’s Camp Airy, as well as taking walks near the mountains. He calls it “home to me.”

But more than anything, Mark Blackman has returned almost every summer since 1998 because camp is where he makes his dreams come true.

Blackman is the counsellor who brings to life ideas everyone else dismisses. As the organizer of camp-wide events, he brought camels in from the local zoo. He also brought a monster truck in to “smash a bunch of cars.” He bought 300 helium balloons and flew campers across camp on a harness.

Ben Sales

And Blackman sees no reason why he can’t follow his dreams when summer ends. That’s why, three years ago, he quit his job as an IT headhunter, moved to Harlem and — with no professional film experience — wrote a movie.

The movie is about a Jewish guy living with his mostly white friends in mostly black Harlem. It stars his mostly white friends. It’s called “Welcome to Harlem.” And it is set to premiere at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on November 19.

In late October, Blackman hosted a fundraiser for the movie at Tian, a restaurant in Harlem’s Riverbank Park. Sporting a beard and thin-frame glasses, he wore a brown blazer, pink “Welcome to Harlem” T-shirt and jeans. About 20 people — most of them members of the movie’s cast and crew — listened as Blackman took the microphone.

“What we have already been able to do, to come this far, is something extraordinarily unique,” Blackman said. “A bunch of kids from the freaking neighborhood on 151st Street creating something by themselves that is going to be seen at the Apollo is not just cool. It is f–king unheard of. This is not supposed to happen.”

But Blackman has made it happen — through local business sponsors, price-haggling with the Apollo and five-figure personal debt. The movie is a musical about a 23-year-old named Marty Blackstein who moves to Harlem, meets a girl and fights gentrification, but above all it’s a love affair with Blackman’s neighborhood. Blackman lives on 151st Street in a repossessed building supervised by a lawyer who stopped collecting rent last year. He now pays nothing for his 4-bedroom apartment-cum-production-office. Unemployment insurance covers his main expenses: “food, booze and weed.”


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