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Programmer Roundtable: <br>Films Set in New York

Tribeca Director of Programming David Kwok talks with three of this year's directors about setting their films in the city we know and love.

Tribeca Director of Programming David Kwok caught up with some of this year’s filmmakers who set their films in New York. Check out what Bradley Rust Gray (The Exploding Girl), Julio DePietro (The Good Guy), and Darko Lungulov (Here and There) had to say about filming in New York, what their inspirations were, and how they feel about how people see their work.

David Kwok: For many films that are shot in New York, the city becomes an integral part of the film. You could say that in some ways that the city becomes one of the characters of the film. I can see that in all of your films. Can you talk a little about how you used New York in the film?

Bradley Rust Gray [Director,
The Exploding Girl]: One of the first things we were excited about trying on this movie was that we wanted to shoot with a tiny crew and very long lens so we could film the actors amongst real people. We were trying to create a feeling of being close to pedestrians without them sensing the camera. This documentary approach was very exciting, and it opened our eyes to finding a lot of resonance in the everyday life of the city.

Julio DePietro [Director, The Good Guy]: New York City is the best set a director could ask for, and I tried to include a mix of iconic exteriors and local ‘in-the-know’ locations to give a vivid sense of the Manhattan landscape. Some of the bars and restaurants we filmed in are already beautifully designed and dressed, and you just basically light it and shoot. But life in this city can be hazardous to some people as well, and the film explores that side of it too.

Darko Lungulov [Director, Here and There]: I really wanted to present the face of New York that I got to know when first I came in 1991—“fresh of the boat”—with un-gentrified neighborhoods where fresh immigrants lived. It certainly was not gentle, but it was rich in taste and sounds, colorful, and unforgiving. While writing the script, the sounds of NYC played a very important role as did the visual elements of the city. We carefully worked later on building the “sound picture” of New York and its different neighborhoods.

The Good Guy

David Kwok: How was shooting in New York?

Julio DePietro: It was a great experience overall. The Mayor’s office here is surprisingly easy to deal with in terms of permits, and local businesses were generally very accommodating. I think even many hardened New Yorkers are a bit starry-eyed underneath it all when it comes to movies, and our locations team worked a lot of amazing deals with them.

Bradley Rust Gray: It was really fun. Our production was the size of a hot dog vendor.  Eric Lin (the cinematographer) and I were scouting for an extra location once on the fly and we ended up walking through this giant television set for a show that was filming at the same time on the Lower East Side. It seemed like there were 500 people standing around with huge lights in the middle of the day, and they were filming someone getting out of a car. I felt so light and exhilarated at that moment. 

Darko Lungulov: We had a small crew and everything was shot hand-held, it was a stylistic choice. We didn’t even rent a tripod. There was lot of enthusiasm—pure love of filmmaking—which I find so characteristic for the New York no-budget scene. That makes New York the best city in the world to shoot small movies: the people and their enthusiasm.

Here and There

David Kwok: What inspired you to make this film?

Darko Lungulov: While studying film at City College of New York, I supported myself by driving a van, carrying boxes and furniture every day before and after film classes. I entered many lives of New Yorkers as a mover. I always knew that this could be a good base for a story that connects different people living in NYC. When I returned to live in Serbia, I learned quickly about the harsh reality of daily life in this “country in transition.” Even though all the wars ended, nearly all the young people there were still longing to live somewhere else, preferably in New York.

Julio DePietro: I guess I had wanted to try to write a non-idealized story about dating life in the big city, but from a male point of view. And I had spent some time working for an investment firm in Chicago as a customer of all the big Wall Street firms here. I thought that would be a perfect back-drop, as it is extremely topical these days and that culture is fascinating in its own right.

Bradley Rust Gray: My original conception was to do something with Zoe [Kazan]. So I asked if she wanted to work on something together and then I wrote it with her in mind. Making the film was about finding the character and trying to show what she’s feeling at this moment in her life. It wasn't such a moment of inspiration as it was a feeling of following a light through a fog. I hope people find the light we were following, and they take that away with them afterwards.

The Exploding Girl

David Kwok: What role do you think film festivals currently play, and how do you think that role is changing and will continue to change going forward?

Bradley Rust Gray: In a way I think film festivals are becoming one of the few places for people to see a wide range of world cinema in America. So [Korean-American director So Yong Kim, Gray’s wife] and I hadn't even heard of Tsai Ming Liang until someone recommended one of his films at a film festival. And when we saw it we were thinking, "Wow where have we been? Why haven't we seen this?" He's made over 12 films, he's one of the living masters working in cinema today, but we mainly only find his films in festivals. Currently, his type of cinema isn't being shown as VOD [Video-on Demand] either. There is a vast wealth of great cinema being made today, and I think festivals serve to highlight worthy works for audiences who are hungry for contemporary cinema.

Darko Lungulov: I think film festivals could soon become the rare places where it will be possible to have the shared experience of watching and talking about films in large groups. Therefore, I see the role of film festivals becoming more important than ever.
They will probably, in some places (like Eastern Europe), remain the last places where you will be able to see films on bigger screens and with lots of people. It may sound pessimistic, but this is the reality that I witness in Serbia—a total of 300,000 to 400,000 movie theatergoers a year vs. 100,000 viewers during a week-long international film festival.

Julio DePietro: Film festivals provide the unique excitement of shared discovery that blows away even the traditional theatrical experience, much less VOD at home or watching a movie on an iPod. A big festival like Tribeca is truly an event, and people who see films there get to feel that they are part of the event itself—and they are.

Meet Julio DePietro at the FREE Community Kickoff Party at Tribeca's Barnes & Noble on Monday, April 20; he will speak on a panel, "New York as Muse," along with fellow TFF '09 directors Michael Sladek (Con Artist), Gloria La Morte (Entre nos), and Josh Zeman (Cropsey).

The Exploding Girl
premieres on Thursday, April 23, at 7:45 pm.

Here and There premieres on Thursday, April 23, at 9:15 pm.

The Good Guy premieres on Sunday, April 26, at 6:00 pm.

In all cases, more screenings follow. Buy your tickets today!

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