Brooklyn-based photographer Joe Quint didn’t set out to make a film about a Kensington activist who channeled her trauma into acts of service. However, Rosalind “Roz” Pichardo, a woman he met while working on a project about the impact of gun violence, inspired him to take action.
“Hello Sunshine,” Joe’s new documentary film, premiered at the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival on June 4th and tells the story of a domestic and gun violence survivor who has saved the lives of over 500 men and women in active opioid addiction. In addition to reversing overdoses and actively helping people on the street, Roz founded an organization called “Operation Save Our City” after her brother Alex was murdered, and his case was never solved.
Joe had spent the last seven years working on “It Takes Us,” a project focused on telling the stories of survivors and the family members of gun violence victims. It was this project that led him to meet Roz. A mutual friend introduced them at Temple University Hospital. Immediately after speaking with her, Joe knew that he had to find a respectful way to tell her story.
After speaking with her and hearing about her many experiences with gun violence trauma and domestic violence trauma – and learning how she channeled that trauma into healing — I knew her story was far too layered to be shown in the context of a larger project. It needed to be brought to life as a film.
The film follows Roz through Kensington in North Philadelphia, an inner-city neighborhood with many long-term working-class and low-income families that have been affected by the ongoing opioid epidemic. Over the last few years, the community has received a lot of attention from the mainstream media as the center of the epidemic in the East Coast, focusing heavily on the effects of addiction and the increase in overdose deaths in the area during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the community’s solidarity efforts and the work being done to help combat the epidemic are often overlooked by reporters.
It’s been maligned, demonized, and exploited by journalists (and those who consider themselves documentarians) who come to engage in what can only be called addiction-porn or poverty-porn — never focusing on the stories of people on the ground who are working to create change.
In contrast, Joe’s documentary highlights the good that comes from human connection and shared strife through Roz’s work in the community. The film’s purpose is not just to tell a cliched inspirational story but to showcase the power of recognition, kindness, and compassion.
There’s a difference in perception vs. reality when it comes to Kensington and people in active addiction. Note that I used the expression ‘people in active addiction’ and not ‘drug addicts.’ It’s the person-first language that shows dignity and respect, which is such a central theme to the project.
I was reminded of things I knew and took for granted. For example, I know logically that addiction is a disease and not a lack of willpower or a moral failing. However, being among people who are so active in their addiction brought home the fact that they had lives before they were in their current situation and never once thought they would be “that person.”
In the same way that Joe acknowledges the importance of people-first language, Roz affectionately refers to the people she serves as “my sunshines.” In the film trailer, Roz mentions people call them “junkies and addicts and all these negative things,” but they all have a light in them that needs help coming out. “Empathy is love. And the same love I receive, I want my sunshines to receive too,” she said.
Joe has been working on “Hello Sunshine” for about two years, and the project was wholly self-funded. Still, he hopes that the film’s recent inclusion in the film festival world will attract investors so he can continue shooting and use the funds to make a feature-length documentary. Currently, the film was screened at the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival recently and will be screened at Oxford International Short Film Festival, Barnes Film Festival, and Soho London International Film Festival.
I see it continuing. Unlike some films, I don’t see it having a natural conclusion. It will go where it goes.
After watching the film, it’s clear that Roz’s experiences have shaped her, and they’re the driving force behind everything she does for her community. Joe’s documentary chronicles her remarkable story, but it also shines a light on the obstacles that she has had to overcome to be where she is today and how she’s been able to work through her own healing by being of service to others.
It’s about acknowledging that extraordinary people are walking among us. I believe that any one or two of the things that have happened in her life would bury most people, yet she keeps going — almost entirely because her healing depends upon healing others.