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'Blank City': Doc explores hidden NYC cinematic history

Steven Buscemi, right, and Mark Boone Jr. in

Steven Buscemi, right, and Mark Boone Jr. in the 1985 film "The Way It Is," featured in "Blank City." Photo Credit: Handout

Modern American independent film was born in New York, fermented on the mean streets of the East Village and the LES during the ’70s and ’80s.

Filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch (“Ghost Dog”) and actors such as Steve Buscemi got their start in small, stylistically daring, self-financed productions made during that time in the then-downtrodden neighborhoods.

Few know the full story of the motley band of underground artists that comprised that cinema movement, dubbed No Wave.

First-time filmmaker Céline Danhier tells the tale in “Blank City,” a documentary that offers a primer on the largely unavailable-on-DVD movies made during the period, as well as a portrait of a grimy, gritty NYC long since gentrified.

amNewYork spoke with the French native turned New Yorker about her film, which opens at the IFC Center today.

What drew you to the No Wave scene?
If you Google “No Wave filmmakers” you don’t have lots of [results]. On Wikipedia, it was just like a couple lines. It’s crazy, because it was the beginning of the independent-film movement. These filmmakers were geniuses and really created some of the most daring films of their generation, so I was like, “I have to do something and I have to show the films.”

What made the movies stand out?
The filmmakers decided to do these films where they blurred the line between reality and fiction. … One of the common elements is the creativity and the energy of [having] no boundaries. They had this freedom.

What do you make of the fact that artists are largely being priced out of the East Village today?
It’s quite a New York [phenomenon]. … Things are shifting around. The feeling that you had in the East Village a few years ago now has moved to Brooklyn, to Bushwick or Red Hook.

What made you want to move here and make a film about the city?
I think it’s the energy. … New York’s got this incredible energy, where you have this feeling anything is possible. A lot of people from around the world are coming to New York. It’s really a melting pot of culture and people.

Some of the most influential No Wave movies:

• “Unmade Beds” (1976) - dir. Amos Poe
• “Permanent Vacation” (1980) - dir. Jim Jarmusch
• “Downtown 81” (1981) - dir. Edo Bortoglio
• “Variety” (1983) - dir. Bette Gordon
• “The Way It Is” (1985) - dir. Eric Mitchell
 

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