Joe Quint didn’t set out to make a film about Rosalind “Roz” Pichardo, a longtime Kensington activist.
The New York City-based documentary photographer and filmmaker had been crisscrossing the country making photographs of people impacted by gun violence for an ongoing project. It only made sense that Pichardo, 43, would be included:
At 16, her boyfriend was shot and killed. In 2000, her twin sister died by suicide. In 2012, after her brother was killed, Pichardo started Operation Save Our City, which works with families of murder victims.
But not long after meeting Pichardo about two years ago, Quint realized something many of us in Philadelphia have long known about her: No one photo or story (including this one) can capture the work of a woman who in many ways embodies the city’s unrelenting trauma.
“The more I talked to her, the more I realized just how layered her story was,” Quint recalled, “and the amount of trauma she’s experienced and then how she’s channeled that trauma into service. … Oh my God, if there’s anybody who deserved to have their story told, it’s Roz.”
The result is Hello, Sunshine, a 15-minute short that borrows its title from the term of endearment Pichardo uses for the people in addiction she works with as a lead educator for Prevention Point, a Kensington-based public health organization.
“The people that I serve on the street, I call them my sunshines,” Pichardo explains in the film. “They’re called junkies and addicts and all these negative things, [but] they all have this thing inside them that just needs some help coming out, this light.”
While Quint hopes to make a longer film about Pichardo, for now he says the documentary “stands on its own, but doesn’t wrap everything up in a nice little bow.”
Not by a long shot.
There are scenes that will strike those who know, or know about Pichardo as familiar: Pichardo, camping out against gun violence. Pichardo, teaching people who use drugs and sell drugs how to administer Narcan to reverse overdoses. (Pichardo has reversed more than 500 overdoses since 2018.) Pichardo, describing the domestic and gun violence that has fueled her activism:
“I find myself helping the most broken people because I was broken and nobody came to fix me,” she says in the film.
In fact, the documentary opens with Pichardo rushing to help someone who is overdosing on a Philly street, though Quint made a conscious decision to stay away from exploitative filming. (I wish more people who find themselves in Kensington would do the same.)
Where Quint focuses his camera instead is on Pichardo, as a survivor, “a warrior,” he calls her. And even more compelling, as a woman at a crossroads.
Even before the pandemic, Pichardo — who contracted the coronavirus in April — had long been on the frontlines of the city’s dual plagues of gun violence and drug addiction. COVID-19 just compounded the collective grief and trauma.
Pichardo was already tired. Now, the film reveals, she’s at a breaking point.
“My work is my identity,” she says. “You have to have more than that one purpose and I haven’t found that since the murder of my brother or the murder of my boyfriend. I haven’t found that within myself. So homicide changed me.”
When I called Pichardo to talk about the film, she had to call me back; she was at a memorial service for a coworker, a mother of two small children who was recently shot and killed.
When we finally connected, she summed up the weight of bearing witness to so much pain with a crushingly simple statement: “It’s just been a lot.”
A few days earlier someone fired on a car her son was riding in, she told me. He was not injured. She’d reversed four overdoses just that week. The devastated mother of a murder victim had called to ask if she could please help her find therapy for her grief-stricken husband.
Our conversation reminded me of something else Pichardo said in the film: “Part of me says if I can’t help someone who’s been through some trauma, then I’m no use. And do I even know how to live if something bad doesn’t happen?”
When she told me that she was going to take a short break to figure out if she could continue, I found myself struggling to offer her words of encouragement to keep going. As much as I can’t imagine the city without activists like her, I also can’t imagine asking any more of people who have given so much. Too much.
I hope Quint eventually makes a longer film about Pichardo, but 15 minutes is all anyone needs to understand how much we owe warriors like Pichardo.
Hello, Sunshine is currently making the rounds at film festivals in the US and internationally, but local screenings will be announced on the film’s website: https://www.hellosunshine-film.com/