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Meet Roy Aguilar

A lifelong North Philly resident, Roy Aguilar knows a thing or two about neighborhood pride.

“People who live in prideful places in Philadelphia tend to be biased toward their neighborhood,” says Aguilar, a recent graduate of the communication major at Drexel University. “There is a sense of community. We feel like we are a special people, because we support one another.”

Aguilar says that he saw the same passion — and compassion — across the city in filming “In the Heart of Brotherly Love,” a 40-minute documentary that chronicles the identities and subcultures of three Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Tasked with creating a senior project for his communication major, Aguilar decided on a project that would showcase his writing ability, his personality and his passions for people and food.

“I wanted to do something challenging — something that reflects all that I’ve learned at Drexel, and who I am,” he says.

Aguilar was inspired to use the assignment as an opportunity to get to know lesser-known sides of his home city. He calls the documentary “a film for people who know Philadelphia on the surface level and want to dig deeper.”

Choosing three areas that piqued his curiosity, Aguilar interviewed individuals who could speak to the culture of the neighborhood, and also share their own unique perspectives. In Fishtown, he met Mónica Zorilla, a Miami native and former reporter for AL DÍA News and Billy Penn, over coffee at Milkcrate Café.

“She found this late, legendary North Philly graffiti artist and was able to talk to his loved ones. I grew up looking at his tags,” he says. “I wanted to find out how she builds a sense of trust and community with Philadelphians.”

Aguilar’s own approach to building rapport with interviewees is rooted in frank conversation, an unpretentious attitude and — the great equalizer — food.

Communication alum Roy Aguilar with John Czerw, owner of Czerw’s Kielbasy
Communication alum Roy Aguilar with John Czerw, owner of Czerw’s Kielbasy

In Port Richmond, he tried his hand at making kielbasy at Czerw’s Kielbasy, a Polish food vendor with over 75 years of history. In Kensington, he shared a brew with Trevor Hayward, co-owner of the Evil Genius Beer Company, as they discussed the changing neighborhood.

Aguilar also met with grassroots activists and community leaders, discussing topics like safe injection sites and gentrification in neighborhoods like Kensington and Hunting Park.

“I try to give both sides of the story, not pander toward a certain political message,” he says. “It was my job to listen to people’s experiences, their stories, and to ask questions. Their problems don’t affect me the same way that they affect them. That’s why it was important to get input from many people.”

Aguilar with community leaders Gilberto Gonzalez and Julius Rivera
Aguilar with community leaders Gilberto Gonzalez and Julius Rivera

Project by Community

The making of the film was a community effort all its own. Starting with the support of two advisers — communication professor Douglas Porpora, PhD, who provided guidance on the film’s sociological and storytelling efforts, and his senior project adviser Julia May, PhD, assistant teaching professor of communication — Aguilar relied on a host of people to help bring the film to fruition.

He consulted with friends in Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design for input on film elements, and enlisted friends and family members to learn alongside him about camera operations. 

Public-media organization WHYY, where Aguilar had volunteered as a media instructor, guided him in setting up shots and laying out the material. Finally, a successful Indegogo campaign, with hundreds of shares and 37 backers, provided funds for post-production like color grading and audio mixing.

Aguilar presenting the documentary as his senior project
Aguilar presenting the documentary as his senior project

As for his on-camera skills? Aguilar was long a familiar face on Drexel University Television (DUTV), where he was a DNews reporter and anchor for almost five years. He shot and edited feature stories throughout his time at Drexel — covering events like Spring Fest, interviewing big names like journalist Jake Tapper, and generally getting to know the Drexel community.

“I didn’t think as much about community before I began this project,” he says. “People at Drexel align themselves with the lifestyle they want to live; I like to think of Philadelphia as one big campus, where you can find your interests and people to share in those interests. A sense of community makes us happier and take less for granted.”

In the fall, Aguilar will take this perspective global on an extended backpacking trip in China, where he has also been offered a role in content production. He plans to start a Youtube channel highlighting subcultures in the neighborhoods of Beijing, much like he did in Philadelphia.

Aguilar has entered “In the Heart of Brotherly Love” into documentary film festivals, and hopes the project will encourage people to venture outside of their comfort zones — culinary and otherwise.

“In the digital age, it’s become a culture of comfort. We will stick to what we know and is familiar to us, what we feel safe around,” he says. “We are cautious with one another. I don’t think people should be taken aback when someone says ‘hello.’”

Watch the documentary

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