Sep 11, 2016
The Brooklyn 100: Gina Telaroli, Filmmaker/Cinephile
Telaroli’s online film writing, like her experimental shorts, is wide-ranging and exploratory, attentive as much to texture as to context, and open-ended in a thrillingly modern way. As a maker of micro-budget features (Traveling Light, a lightly structuralist document of a train trip; Here’s to the Future!, several amateur remakes of a single scene from a Michael Curtiz movie), she’s roped in many members of the NYC film community to participate in a collaborative, spontaneous filmmaking practice that stakes out something about blurred lines between loving art and making it, and collective and individual sensibilities, in the social-media age.
What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to go to the movies?
There are a lot of great theaters in Brooklyn making it hard to choose a favorite. BAM consistently has some of the best reparatory programming not just in NY, but in the world. I’ve been so thankful to see so many things there, especially retrospectives of Vincente Minnelli and John Carpenter, whose work demands to be seen in a theater on 35mm, and amazing lesser-known films by people like Jessie Maple and John Korty. There’s also nothing quite like seeing a new release at UA Court St and I have very very fond memories of being with friends and seeing The Box, Blackhat, Step Up 3D, The Other Guys, and Beyond the Lights, among other things. I recently had a great time screening my own films at Spectacle Theater and if it wasn’t such a disaster to get back to Sunset Park from that part of Williamsburg, I’d be there all the time. I really love the chill atmosphere and the fact that you can discover work sans hype there. And when I have the wherewithal to deal with taking the G to the R at 1am (before getting up at 7am to go to work) I love going to Nitehawk to see The Deuce, which is a monthly screening series hosted by friends. The movie is always projected on 35mm and everything they screen tends to be really fun and weird and the audience is always full of friendly faces, which is really the best-case scenario for a movie-going experience.
What are some films you’ve watched that you can point to and say, “That’s my New York”—films where what’s on-screen (visually, culturally, thematically) resonates with your experience of life in the city?
Something like Roy Del Ruth’s Employees’ Entrance (1933) comes to mind. It’s a NY movie but it’s primarily set in a department store and even though there are characters with personal problems, the majority of the plot actually revolves the economics of the store, which seems like a more than appropriate depiction of the consumerist hell that New York City is rapidly becoming. Secondly, it’s set during The Great Depression, making it a movie indirectly about large-scale monetary disparity and how hard it can be to get by when the rules of the game are set by crooks and are centered on creating an environment of pure consumption. The characters are also all very complex, because of course the “bad” guys are often very intelligent, charming, well-dressed motherfuckers who on some level you want to be friends with. I can also relate to the Loretta Young character, a woman trying to make it in a man’s world, which the film scene in NYC most definitely is.
There’s a flipside though. Being that Employees’ Entrance is a Warners pre-Code film, it was made with a cast of characters (I adore Ruth Donnelly, Allen Jenkins, and of course Warren William and Loretta Young more than I can say) often seen together and like the majority of the movies made during this time, fast and cheap. So many of the movies made before the code are fun, fiercely intelligent, inventive, political, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie. You can feel possibility when you watch them. That kind of filmmaking is in the same spirit as not only my filmmaking community but a lot of communities I’ve been a part of in NY.
There’s also one beautiful scene in particular where Loretta Young’s character is at a party and gets pretty drunk and she wanders out into a hallway filled with balloons with a big grin on her face. In the context of the movie this isn’t such a great thing but if you isolate the moment and her movement and the expression on her face, it’s a pretty perfect illustration of what it can feel like to live in NY when all the pieces fall into place every once in awhile. There’s nothing like it.
In what ways is living in Brooklyn a benefit to a career in and around the arts? In what ways is it a drawback?
Benefit: Access to people and culture.
Drawback: Cost of living and how much work it requires to meet it. Also, living in a bubble and losing sight of the rest of the world
Maybe a related question: In an interview last fall, you said, with bracing frankness, “For me, the main thing is that the current traditional systems—a festival run (if I’m lucky) and maybe (if there’s a miracle) some kind of small scale distribution or grants—don’t seem to work with my non-traditional films and more importantly aren’t going to pay my rent and in turn aren’t really worth the large amount of time those undertakings require, especially since I can’t afford to aimlessly travel the world for a year. I’d rather spend my free time working on new projects, watching movies, seeing friends, going to the gym, dancing, reading, going to the Met, and traveling for fun, while screening my films where I can easily send them or when someone asks.” What is different about making art when it’s a hobby, rather than a career? (I realize that the hobby/career binary is hopelessly inadequate to the current “gig economy” in general and your own career in particular, but I’m curious in general about people’s experiences of making art as less than a full-time job, which is actually most people’s experience of making art.)
Well, I think the giant bags under my eyes might object to the term “hobby,” but I get what you’re saying. So many amazing and successful filmmakers and friends I know have to hold down jobs these days though. Unless you’re independently wealthy or making very commercial work, it really is the norm these days.
One thing, one really great thing, about not making art as a career or for large amounts of money is the freedom that comes with it. And it’s just not freedom of content or form but a freedom of time. On one hand I feel like I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do and to do them as well as I want to do them but on the other I can take as much time as I want to figure a project out in my head, workshop it with friends, reinvent it etc… without worrying about investors or film festival deadlines. I think working this way for the past few years allowed me to experiment in really exciting ways. I’m also very lucky to have a job that challenges me and teaches me a ton. If I’d been beholden to some system, or had spent the majority of my time on the film festival circuit, I don’t think I would have ever been able to learn as much and grow as much as a filmmaker.
Otherwise, I’m just tired a lot of the time and bummed when I have to be boring and go home and work instead of going out to have fun. It takes a lot of discipline, which is a pretty unglamorous thing when it comes down to it.
How do you balance the concentration required to be a devotee of classical narrative cinema, with your evident interest in stray gestures and textures, and visual noise? What is the right balance between immersion and digression—both in cinephilia, and in life?
Structure is always very helpful to me, in both life and movie-watching and I think part of the reason I’ve always been most inspired by classical Hollywood films is that there are so many knowns structure and form wise that you can really looks past the surface and delve into and discover the weird things happening around and underneath the basic aspects of the movie.
Balance is something I tend to have a very hard time with and when it comes to both cinephilia and life and I tend to take things day by day and do what I need to or what feels right at any given moment. I think that both are very important though. For awhile I used my annual work vacation to take a movie related trip (to Il Cinema Ritrovato or the Temenos for example) and then last year I decided to go to Thailand just for fun and it was life-changing. I’m fairly certain I’ll never use my time off from work to visit a film event ever again.
Also, I definitely haven’t always been a hardcore cinephile. I’ve always loved movies but I didn’t really start getting deep into things until maybe 2009 or so. In the years before that I was devoted to sports (playing and watching), politics, and held a wide variety of jobs that included teaching kids how to make movies in Queensbridge, managing a gym, collecting oral histories, and perhaps the job I miss the most, working the paint counter at a hardware store in high school.
What are you working on right now?
I’m actually about to get on an airplane to head out to Colorado to shoot a short film with filmmaker and researcher Erin Espelie. After that I’ll be shooting a different short in Sunset Park in April. I’ve also started to gather materials for a new found footage piece that I hope to complete in the next year.
Criticism-wise I’ve also been working on an illustrated monograph about Henry King with filmmaker and translator Ted Fendt for the past year and hope to program a series of King’s films here in New York City.
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