A socially distanced screening of the Netflix original “Vampires vs. the Bronx” was held at the El Coquí Community Garden on November 14th. Mission Helping Hand, Bronx Film 48 and local Mott Haven resident Sonyi Lopez co-organized the movie screening as the first of many community events they have planned for the borough.
The film choice was especially fitting for the Saturday evening in Melrose. Even as volunteers set up for the event that afternoon, their friendly conversations were overshadowed by the sounds of construction just yards away. In fact, the abandoned courthouse that was included in the film is just within walking distance of the garden, allowing some attendees to walk over and take photos after the screening.
Mission Helping Hand plans to continue holding similar events for the community, inside and outside of the garden. Another movie screening is already in the works.
“We really wanted it to become an outdoor community center,” said Bruce Blue Rivera, founder of Mission Helping Hand. “We’ve had so many different types of great ideas come out of the Bronx and it’s really just a platform for them for culture, for education to really just have a place and a home.”
“I just wanted to discuss how the community felt about that film and the theme of gentrification, and how they feel it relates to reality now with displacement, how the community’s changing over time, and how that’s affected them,” Lopez said. “I just felt like this is a film that we should all watch together.”
“Vampires vs. the Bronx,” written and directed by Osmany “Oz” Rodriguez, follows three teenage boys who are feeling the creeping hand of gentrification in their neighborhood as businesses mysteriously begin shutting down and people begin disappearing. Their beloved local bodega is next, so they simultaneously try to plan a block party and fight vampires to save their neighborhood.
The star-studded cast includes Bronx native Joel “Mero” Martinez of Showtime’s “Desus & Mero,” who plays the comedic, bachata-playing owner of the local bodega, and Method Man, who plays the wise, all-seeing Father Jackson.
El Coquí provided a quiet oasis for the event to take place outside on one of the last bearable days of autumn. The final tomatoes of the summer were already almost done growing in and the basil was beginning to wilt. The garden beds were already sprouting winter crops such as lettuce and kale, many of which were lent by other local gardens.
The El Coquí Community Garden is also a fairly new addition to the neighborhood, but it seems to be welcomed by locals. Pedestrians constantly stopped by throughout the day with their own reusable bags to pick up produce from the boxes of potatoes, onions and apples that were available at the entrance. Lopez says the previously abandoned lot was “liberated” at the start of the pandemic by Mission Helping Hand who turned the space into the community garden it is today with the help of volunteers.
“It gave me a place to be peaceful and to really examine what’s happening in my community,” said Rivera. “The same problems that affected my community as a child still affect the children of today and that’s a problem.”