In the late ’50s and early ’60s, documentarian Manfred Kirchheimer and his frequent collaborator Walter Hess prowled New York City for a planned film about the proliferation of high-rise buildings in a changing city. While that project, unlike Kirchheimer’s well-known NYC-centric features like “Claw” (also made alongside Hess) and the seminal “Stations of the Elevated,” never got off the ground, it did ultimately spawn what would become “Free Time.”
Based on the black-and-white footage the pair gathered decades ago, the film has only recently been assembled into a 61-minute project — it celebrated its world premiere at last year’s New York Film Festival, over 60 years before it was first begun — and is now gearing up for a limited release. It will start, appropriately enough, at New York City’s own Film Forum.
Per Film Forum’s preview of the documentary, “Free Time” illuminates “New York’s stately architectural beauty [as it] contrasts with rough and raw scenes of kids playing stickball, window washers balancing precariously, and stoop sitters reading the paper or daydreaming. The ways in which life in Washington Heights differs from Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper West Side, or the Financial District are captured with a sensitive, loving eye and an ear for the musical rhythms of city life.”
Last year, Kirchheimer explained the editing process to Gothamist and how the film was initially inspired by a similar revisitation of archival material that eventually formed his 2018 film “Dream of a City.” Kirchheimer told the outlet that “Free Time” was edited between December 2018 and June 2019, a process that pushed the filmmaker to do something unexpected, given its themes: forget nostalgia.
“I needed to find a structure for this diverse material, which wasn’t easy,” he told Gothamist. “But I considered it new material and didn’t linger over its nostalgic value. It was simply an editing challenge.” And still, the filmmaker has a staggering amount of footage leftover. “There were 45,000 feet (of film) originally,” he told the outlet. “Now there are still about 10,000 feet left.” Another film in the making, perhaps?
Beginning Wednesday April 1, Kirchheimer’s “Free Time” will receive an exclusive one-week NY engagement at Film Forum and will expand nationally in the coming months. The film will also screen alongside Rudy Burckhardt’s classic “Under the Brooklyn Bridge,” a 1950s-set documentary that follows a “gaggle of boys” who zip into the East River for a summer swim.
Check out the exclusive trailer and poster for “Free Time,” available exclusively on IndieWire, below.