When I set foot in New Amsterdam for the first time in 1989 it put a spell on me immediately. I've been traveling back and forth from Old Amsterdam, trying to pick up assignments that I could execute in New York ever since. I've grown more and more intrigued exploring how people emotionally survive the (often cold and impersonal) ways of American city life. I've asked myself whether living in the city is as crazy, impersonal, fast-paced and lonely as they sometimes say. But I've found that there is a hidden intimacy, love and support amongst New Yorkers that some people may not be aware of.
In the past two decades I've written, directed and produced radio plays, theatre plays, corporate films, drama, documentaries, TV shows and commercials. During those projects there was always one of my three feature documentaries about New York in the making in the background. The Tunnel (four years in the lives of six homeless people living underground in an Amtrak train tunnel) and All Visitors must be Announced (about the lives and loves of doormen who are amongst other things shrinks and lovers to their residents) were very personal portraits of New Yorkers trying to find their way in the city they love - within a strange, somewhat protected, environment. In Mr. Right - the search for sanity and a soul mate in NYC, I followed the lives of truly single New Yorkers, who are actively looking for a partner, during a one-year period.
Let me tell you a little more about each of those three 'children'. They're
out there growing up by themselves now, but I'll never stop worrying about
This film tells the story of six people living in a deserted Amtrak tunnel underneath Riverside Park. Bernard, Bobby, David, Willie, Sheila and John all had different reasons to spend a period of their life there (1-16 years).
I visited and filmed them from 1989 to 1993 and got to know the hardship of daily life in the tunnel and the moments of happiness and camaraderie amongst the residents during the time spent around the grill. I followed their struggle to get out and start a new life 'up top'.
In 1991 Amtrak decided to start using the tunnel again. For some of the residents the roaring trains were a reason to leave, others didn't feel the need to move.
With trains running regularly Amtrak, afraid of accidents and lawsuits, decided to close the gates in 1993. Bernard, who calls himself 'The Lord of the Tunnel', reminded them of their statement made on CNN. As Amtrak had indeed promised not to chase any of the residents out, Bernard was given his personal key and reluctantly accepted the job as 'doorman'. Some of the former residents returned to the tunnel whilst others now live in apartments in New York.
To see a clip from The Tunnel, click here.
In New York thousands of doormen have played the role of father, brother, friend or even the occasional lover for the residents of their apartment buildings for centuries.
One chooses to have a doorman mainly for practical reasons (who else will sign for delivery of packages and red roses when you're out jogging?) and safety. The friendly smile every time you arrive or leave your building is a pleasant extra that makes the sometimes lonely life in this big city somewhat more bearable. The presence of the doorman appears to go almost unnoticed. In most cases however he knows more about his residents than they would like to believe.
Doormen come in every shape, form and size, In All Visitors must be Announced we will get to know three of them really well.
Harvey is about to retire. His whole life he has been working in 21 Jane Street in the West Village. Many residents consider him an indispensable family member.
Franco likes to keep things a little more aloof. After years in the city, this sensitive Italian in his forties still looks at the often cold and hard ways of New York with amazement. Being a doorman is his second job. During the day he works in a barbershop and during the early evening hours he finds time to do house calls in order to support his rather large family.
Peter has done every typical job in the New York job book. Now in his thirties he decided it was time to get serious. He accidentally found a job in the prestigious San Remo, a building on Central Park West where the residents include Bruce Willis, Steve Martin and Dustin Hoffman. Peter laughs his head of when Bruce's wife Demi has three limousines with mineral water delivered, but also tells us he once was just in time to save a woman he found with a plastic bag over her head. She could no longer deal with her loneliness and he still wonders if it might have been better if he had not found her in time.
We also encounter a doorwoman. A bunch of residents, amongst whom ex-major Koch, actor Burt Young, a typical single woman named Eve and the little boy Adam, give their opinion on having the doorman luxury. On the one hand this appears to offer some warmth in an otherwise cold big city. On the other hand one gives up a large part of one's privacy when living in a doorman building.
A good doorman knows: speech is silver, but silence remains golden. An experienced resident knows how to tip and how to tip well, in order to survive. You don't get something for nothing, especially in New York.
To see a clip from All Visitors Must be Announced, click here.
Why is it so hard for New Yorkers to find Mr. or Mrs. Right? Are they too demanding or simply too busy surviving?
Mr. Right follows New Yorkers from all walks of life throughout a period of one year, and three single New York women in particular.
Annie, in her early thirties, works for Island Records. Like many New Yorkers she has to deal with a workload that makes it hard to find time to do anything else. Doing publicity for Lionel Richie, Daniel Bedingfield and many other artists leaves her very little time for friends, family, hobbies, or the search for a guy.
Leigh, also in her early thirties, has worked in the music industry all her life. When filming started, she had just become unemployed. A scary fact when you are a New Yorker. But maybe a blessing in disguise for Leigh. Of course she is on the lookout for a new job (and a man!), but she also uses this 'new free' time as an opportunity to embark on an adventurous journey searching her soul.
Laurie, in her late forties, has not found the success in her career as an actress - or in her love life - that she had hoped for. But being the enterprising soul that she is, she has put her '15 years of bad dates' into writing. We follow Laurie whilst her book 'You have to kiss a lot of frogs' becomes very popular. Being single in the city however doesn't become any easier. More and more friends start a family and leave New York. As Laurie puts it; 'part of the reason for wanting a partner in life is that you need someone to do stuff with'.
Friends, family and fellow New Yorkers complete the story that reveals why the search for sanity and a soul mate is such an extreme challenge in New York.
The above three documentaries were shown in international film festivals and broadcast on television. The Tunnel and All Visitors won several international awards, and Mr. Right is just making its way into the States - trying to pick up some.
For updates please visit the official website.
To see a clip from Mr. Right, click here.