Eighteen wheelers rumble by on the busy highway, the neon “open” sign flashes, and smaller trucks with firewood, or giant tool boxes, or packages to be delivered roll through the parking lot, stopping for gas, or fried chicken or beer. The sky darkens, and another day at the Brownsville Market nears its close. This every-day action at the beloved market just west of Crozet has been captured by a long-time customer and new filmmaker.
It turns out that it’s not only commuters, construction workers and coffee-drinking retirees who love Brownsville. “The market is a big part of the lives of Western students,” said Embry Pulich. In fact, he said, there’s a well-worn path skirting the cemetery between the high school and the market, where students grab lunches (cheeseburgers and potato wedges are favorites, said owner Chris Suh), after-school snacks and candy.
Pulich is a 17-year-old student at Western, a junior, and he loves the chicken breasts and scalloped potatoes from Brownsville. He’s an accomplished photographer and likes creative subjects, football, soccer, and track. He is enrolled in Mr. Hughes’s film study class, where everyone was assigned to make a short documentary film. He decided to focus on the Brownsville Market and, from the start, knew what he wanted to capture in the three or four minutes allowed for the assignment.
“They’re always friendly,” Pulich said. “They make everyone feel welcome. That’s why I chose them.” He knew that the friendliness was the idea he wanted to convey in his short film, but found it was trickier to capture it in a few minutes than to recognize it over many years.
The owner and staff helped by being so open, he said, surprising him with their willingness to be filmed as they went about their daily work of stocking shelves, breading chicken and deep-frying potatoes. Pulich learned that it was important for him to spend enough time at the market that he and his camera equipment could blend into the background. He made some wise choices in his film, keeping the focus on oil sizzling, frozen drinks swirling into a cup, or customers entering through the door rather than fixing employees for too long in the harsh focus of the camera.
Instead, their voices form the background to the film’s action, perfectly expressing the friendliness Pulich had hoped for, with praise for the working environment and the customers, especially the regulars.
In a voice-over of a phone interview with Suh, which accompanies some busy moments, the owner said he wanted his store to be like the bar in the long-running television show “Cheers,” a series that spanned 10 years in the 1980s and ’90s. The famous line from the lyrics that introduced the show, “You want to be where everyone knows your name,” described what he hoped for, Suh said, minus the cocktails. He expressed gratitude to the students and to all of his regulars, whose patronage has helped the market survive during the pandemic.
What did Pulich learn from his first experience with film? “I’ll be better prepared next time,” he said, “but I learned that it’s important to develop a relationship with the people you film.” He also learned, he said, that the content quickly becomes beyond the videographer’s control. In the case of Brownsville, he found that the real story had to unfold over time. Instead of one dramatic moment with someone expressing a lofty sentiment on camera, he said, “It’s the little things that matter.”
Find the short film on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgGm90BkeV0.