An older woman walks along Steinway Street in Astoria with a strong sense of purpose. She is shot by an unknown cameraperson who wields his lens like a sniper, tracking her as she moves. The woman periodically stops men on the sidewalk, earnestly asking benign questions that quickly becoming intensely personal.
All of my films really reside in this guilt that I feel of having, for a time, integrated this French injunction of separating myself from working class neighborhoods . . . I return to these neighborhoods in order to make visible the people I have been made to believe were not worthy of being represented in film.
One of the key questions of filmmaking is the distance between camera and subject, or character. Do you remember any Rembrandt pictures? The question is not about composition and lighting. Why Rembrandt is crucial for art is because he’s choosing the right scale.
Being a professor has provided me with access to how younger people think. I am in my early forties now and my students remind me of the activism I was participating in in my twenties. As I was writing the film, I was thinking about some of my students and things I had heard them say at some point on campus. It is a world that many filmmakers who do not teach do not have access to.
I bought a 16mm Bolex windup camera in 1987. And that is the camera I use. Wow. Can you think of all the cameras and cell phones and computers and laptops that each one of us has had in those intervening years? And I love that. I don't have to worry about batteries.
What was especially difficult was letting myself be guided by these unknown forces orbiting around me. It all goes back to af Klint and Kandinsky, who in their practice strived to make the unknown visible, to give visuals to things we know are there but cannot fully articulate.
"There is something going on right now, all over the world. We all feel we are all together in this. We do not really know anymore how societies function. We do not really trust that those in power are really governing in our interests."
I think there is a mystery that happens between an image and the spectator. The temple of cinema is an experience that you cannot exchange with another, or by watching films at home. The images can’t penetrate the spectator and be there for a long time.
The film, if it is about anything, is about the end of something and uncertain futures, the loss of spaces like this and the loss of those communities and the divisions between people. We had that in mind when we made it, but now it’s just so bizarrely resonant.
There is no way of escaping myself. It’s about presenting a work that is the product of a collaboration with the characters and my own learning process about people, places, their issues, and lives. It’s a middle-of-the-road picture presented by a white guy who is learning about the struggle of black America.