In this week’s SnagFilms spotlight, the once anarchic Lower East Side is showcased in a profile of documentary filmmaker Clayton Patterson.
Since 1979 Clayton Patterson has dedicated his life to documenting the final era of raw creativity and lawlessness in New York City’s Lower East Side, a neighborhood famed for art, music and revolutionary minds.
Traversing the outside edge he’s recorded a dark and colorful society, from drag, hardcore, heroin, homelessness, political chaos and ultimately gentrification. His odyssey from voyeur to provocateur reveals that it can take losing everything you love to find your own significance. [Synopsis provided by the film’s website.]
Directors: Dan Levin, Ben Solomon
Producers: Jenner Furst, Dan Levin, Ben Solomon
Executive Producers: Marc Levin
Editor: Jenner Furst
Composers: Phil Quinaz, Mike Gamble
Director Dan Levin on what inspired him to become a filmmaker, and on what prompted him to make “Captured”…
I was born and raised in downtown Manhattan, inspired by the sights and sounds of this vibrant city, and am a third generation filmmaker on his fathers side. “Captured” marks my first feature Documentary film.
Clayton Patterson and his massive body of work is what inspired me to make “Captured”. My co-director Ben Solomon and I have known Clayton since we were in high school. As I got to know Clayton I used to visit his gallery on Essex Street and look through his photographs of the neighborhood. Realizing that he had accumulated a massive archive of photography, video and art, it became obvious that something had to be done with his work. I left New York City in 2001 to attend college and every time I returned, I couldn’t help but notice how rapidly the city was changing. In 2005 when I graduated from college and returned to NYC I saw that new luxury hotels and condos were transforming the look and feel of the Lower East Side dramatically. We started to make “Captured” as a way to give life to Clayton’s work not only to tell his story, but the story of the neighborhood, its characters as the transforming effects of gentrification, were visibly underway.
Levin on the massive task in completing his film, and what he hopes audiences will take away from Patterson’s work…
The biggest challenge in developing this project was to create a coherent story out of an enormous wealth of material. Clayton’s ‘archive’ is compiled of thousands of hours of video and hundreds of thousands of photographs. Elsa Rensaa, Clayton’s partner in life and art, was the gatekeeper to the archive. She knew where everything was, and played a major roll in not only the film but also in finding important elements of the archive. We started by doing interviews with Clayton to get his story out chronologically. We then identified key subplots and characters within his documentation, for example Nelson Sullivan and the drag queens at the Pyramid Club, and hardcore matinee shows at CBGB’s. Then Elsa found the respective video/photography within the archive. Eventually however Ben and I got lost in the archives and the countless stories they tell. The final piece to the puzzle was bringing in Jenner Furst to help produce and edit the content that we were shooting and gathering from Clayton. Jenner was key as an outside perspective in helping us bring the story together in a cohesive fashion. Also having my father Marc Levin, who is a veteran documentary filmmaker, as the EP, with access to his resources from equipment to guidance and knowledge was priceless.
I think what audiences enjoy and take away from the film is a historical experience from a unique perspective. The importance of Clayton’s work is that it serves as evidence of a vibrant time and mix of cultures in New York City’s Lower East Side, a neighborhood who’s mystique and influence can be felt worldwide. Clayton’s work focuses on the forgotten ones, the people on the fringe, who inspired future generations to come be part of this city. His work is not only art, but is also a form of sociology, that can be studied for generations to come.
Finally Levin on his influences, and what’s next…
There are so many films that have inspired me over the years, it hard to say specifically a film that inspired me to make “Captured.” What influenced me the most are New York films, documentary and fiction, that have achieved a cult status and have inspired young artistic people all over the world. Films like “Style Wars,” “Alphabet City,” and “The Warriors” are some good examples. They are staples of New York cinema and I hope “Captured” will one day be looked at in that light.
Jenner Furst and I just completed our first feature narrative “Dirty Old Town.” The film is spun out of “Captured.” It uses some of the real characters from “Captured” in a fictional narrative that takes place in and around the famous Billy’s Antiques and Props shop on Bowery and Houston. We will be screening the film in NY this summer and are currently submitting the film to festivals worldwide.