“It is frightening being a woman in New York City,” Lindsay Dye says with declarative weariness, with a cigarette hanging from her mouth. Dye is a Bushwick transplant with a Pratt degree, performer at the House Of Yes and a webcam model. She is at the center of Ben Garchar’s documentary triptych, “Neighborhood,” which plays in BAM’s documentary shorts program on June 22.
Garchar captures Dye reflecting on one of her more outré performances. “One of the major requests is to crush an object. When I was first asked, the person wanted me to suffocate my cat with my butt,” Dye says in the film, while baking two cakes. “When I came across cake sitting, I thought this could work, both as a fetish performance in my chatroom and an art performance in real life.” In the time since, Dye’s work has been appreciated by a British fashion magazine called Brick and by her 15 thousand followers on Instagram, which was how Garchar found her.
“When I moved here, all the blocks around me were empty lots. Now each one of them is a condo,” Garchar told Bushwick Daily. “These observations were the genesis of what would become ‘Neighborhood.’”
Like the poem says, Bushwick is a neighborhood of multitudes and Garchar juxtaposes Dye’s art hustle with Gambino Quiñones, now a retiree, who moved to the neighborhood from his father’s farm in Puerto Rico in the 1960s, during the neighborhood’s previous seismic demographic change. In putting them narratively together, Garchar suggests a handing off of the generational torch, passing from Quiñones’ low-lit and cluttered apartment to the flickering lights of Dye’s performances at the House of Yes, which Garchar cuts into. “We’re all temporary in this world. We’re not going to be here forever,” Quiñones ruminates.
Completing Garchar’s sketch of the “Neighborhood” is Armando Pineiro, who goes by Puncho and, in lieu of being understood by with a life and career defined by historical circumstance, he wears a hoodie while quietly operating a pigeon coop on the roof of his apartment building. On his roof he ruminates on the regional decline of the sport.
People don’t keep pigeons the way they used to, something Puncho connects to stricter landlords but maybe also to the itinerant lifestyles of subletters and the gig-employed. “I grew up on this block here,” Puncho says, a fact that to him is not particularly special. “My grandfather had a pigeon coop up the block.”
By his own estimation, Garchar has lived in some three or four different locations in greater Bushwick since moving to the city after graduating from Wright State University. There, he had studied under Julia Reichert, a documentarian who’s most recent feature American Factory was picked up by Netflix and already has the promotional nod of the Obamas. Garchar’s first credit, in fact, was working with Reichert on a short by that was released on HBO in 2009, “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.”
His own work, which veers from small shaky-camera dramas to personality pieces like “Neighborhood,” largely take place outside, where voices catcall on wide streets and the burden of being alive can hang in the air, uncertain. He compares “Neighborhood” both to “Koyaanisqatsi,” Godfrey Reggio’s ‘80s art house dialogue-free visual paean to post-war decay and to Frederick Wiseman’s “In Jackson Heights,” a loud celebration of the possibilities of cultural juxtaposition and shared space of cities.
“Whenever I come back to where I first moved here, near the Bed-Stuy border, these are all $3000-a-month apartments, I don’t even know who gets to live there,” Garchar says, “I wanted to make a movie about the people you might not know about or hear about otherwise.”
All images courtesy of Ben Garchar.
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