A love letter to old New York.
The trains of Grand Central carried scores of faceless, nameless travelers into and out of New York. The smells and sounds in the lower belly of the giant underworld terminal reminded me of why this is the city that never sleeps. And for those who can afford it, anything is possible. Anything is possible because everything is here.
To me, New York represents a kind of certain honesty. Honesty isn’t always fun, but at least it’s honest. You know where you are, and what time it is in New York. And it’s not hard to be reminded of that fact on a daily basis because there are so many people to compare and contrast.
Now, take a step back at all of the nameless, faceless travelers in Grand Central. Take a look and slowly move in a little closer and something funny happens. You immediately realize that it’s true what they say, ‘there ARE a million stories in the naked city.’
I found myself sitting at a table in the underground food court of Grand Central with Director David Spaltro. David said to me, “How many times will you ever sit down and be able to talk with a living movie character?” I may be paraphrasing his quote a little bit, because I didn’t write it down word for word, but that’s how I remember him saying it.
David sent me a screening copy of his heartfelt film “Around”. The film is based on Davids experience as a student at New York's School of Visual Arts (SVA) from 2001 to 2005. It’s a story about a struggling college kid in film school, with little support from his friends of family. It’s a story about losing financial aid and losing a place to live, but staying in school despite almost impossible odds. The story shows us about life and love and relationships, and learning where to live by sleeping in Grand Central or Subway trains. At the films core, it’s a story about persevering.
I’m attracted to David’s film because it reminded me a lot of old New York. Now, I have to laugh a bit here because Old New York to me means something very different to say Robert De Niro or Martin Scorsese. I’m thinking more along the lines of the old new york that the Weinsteins might be nostalgic for.
Not that long ago, new york city was thriving, and full of lots of independent filmmakers, running around the city with film cameras, telling stories. Sharing stories on movie nights in local bars. Thoughtful stories about personal experiences. Recently I feel like there has been some kind of shift to try to move away from what a true independent film is, or was. Take that for what it’s worth. But there is so much focus now on a different set of priorities. I recently saw a facebook group called, “I used to work at Miramax, when working at Miramax meant something.” I didn’t work at Miramax, but I had a few friends that did, and that’s the new york I’m talking about.
As David explained it to me, he translated his life to screen. In his directorial debut “Around” we follow a strong performance by actor Robert W. Evans. In fact, he’s one of the strongest parts of the film, and I hope to see him in some other projects. It must be difficult to cast someone to play yourself, but then I thought that Tim Burton has been doing that with Johnny Depp for years now. David told me stories about essentially being homeless and shooting a film. But I never really got that sense that he was “homeless”. He grew up on the other side of the Hudson, a short train ride to the city. But I could imagine him taking powernaps on trains and in Grand Central.
The coolest and most memorable parts of “Around” take place right in Grand Central station. The Mayors Office of Film gave David permission to shoot in Grand Central for a few hours. What’s amazing, is you see again, how cool New Yorkers are when they see cameras. They just instinctively know not to look in the lens. Not that they don’t know what’s going on or don’t care, they just know not to ruin the shot.
Is “Around” going to win an Oscar, probably not, but as a film with real characters that we can connect with, “Around” does the job, and does it well.
David has created a film that is well suited for any New York city filmmaker to remember what it used to be like to make films in this city. And he gives us hope for what may be to come.