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Tribeca Takes: Celine Danhier on Blank City

Opening today at IFC Center, this TFF 2009 New York story explores the city's underground film movement of the 70s and 80s. Lots of familiar faces!


Blank City screened as a “work-in-progress” at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009—it was both my first film and my first experience at any film festival.


Blank City is a feature documentary that tells the story of the underground film movement in New York from the late 70s to the early 80s, and explores its ties to the East Village art and music scene of the period. So the Tribeca Film Festival was really the perfect place to showcase it for the very first time.


We interviewed so many amazing people—Steve Buscemi, Jim Jarmusch, Debbie Harry, Sara Driver, Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell, James Nares, Fab 5 Freddy—and we had a lot of them join us for the Tribeca screening, which was great. Steve Buscemi had another premiere that night [Bette Gordon's Handsome Harry], but he took the time out to walk the red carpet with us and support the film, and it really, really was an amazing moment for me.



When I started out making this documentary, I didn’t have any background in film, no money and no contacts... just an idea. What I did have was a great team, with my two producers and one American Express card, and our motto was not to take “no” for an answer. I had moved here from France knowing that I just had to make this film happen, no matter what.


The initial idea for the film was to put together a story in the style of the book Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil, so it was important to us to try to track down as many people as we could, including musicians, photographers and other artists who were part of that scene, and ask them to just tell their story about this time and filmmaking movement. We were very lucky that so many people were still living in New York. In the end, we interviewed about 40 people, and almost everyone we met was so supportive for the film, and we are very thankful for that.



Finally, after getting our first full rough cut together, we found out that we were invited to screen at the Tribeca Film Festival. One of my producers had submitted the film but forgotten to mention it to me. But the only catch was… we were only about 3 or 4 weeks away from the screening date and the film was nowhere near finished! I worked another job during the day, so it meant my nights were now filled with editing editing editing! It was work all day, work all night, sleep for 1-2 hours, get up at 7 am and do it all again: lots and lots of coffee and just really running on the adrenaline from the creative process.


And the day right before our big premiere at Tribeca, we had literally worked all night to finish, and I didn’t realize it, but I had fallen asleep on the floor. My editor was shaking me awake as the sun was coming up saying, “Get up! Get up! We’re done!” And so we took the film over to the lab in the nick of time and just made it. And then I had to go to work.



The relief finally came when I saw that there wasn’t one empty seat in the theater at the Tribeca Film Festival, and when the film started, people in the audience started laughing at a line in the film that I had always loved.   And that’s when I finally thought—yes, we did it!


Since then, the film had its official international premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, and has played all over the world at festivals from Edinburgh to Rio to Melbourne. It has certainly not always been an easy road, but it has been an incredible experience, starting with that first Tribeca moment, and I feel so lucky to be able to bring the film back home to New York, where it will open at IFC Center on April 6.


Blank City opens at the IFC Center on April 6, and in theaters across the U.S. throughout the spring and summer. Check for theater listings near you.


Like Blank City on Facebook.


Watch the trailer:



Blank City Official Trailer from Celine Danhier on Vimeo.


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