Real to Reel

Real to Reel

The 16-millimeter movie cameras are tricky to use. The interns in Artspace’s Summer Apprenticeship Program have just learned how to load them. Now that it’s time to actually film, they’re trying to figure out how to hold up the heavy cameras, where to place their hands, how to look through the viewfinders.

“It’s just bulky, but it does beautiful things,” encourages instructor Paolo Davanzo. He reminds the high school students how to set the aperture and explains some of the cool things the cameras can do with a telephoto lens, like “rack the focus”—that is, change the focus from one point to another in the middle of a shot.

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We’re on the New Haven Green on a steamy afternoon, and the 22 high school students—20 from New Haven public schools plus two students from Ecuador—are wandering in three groups, looking for subjects to shoot. They’ve already learned how to use a Super 8-millimeter camera, the kind they’ll be using to produce their “city symphony,” a collaborative film which will splice together one minute from each of the young filmmakers, all of them aiming to capture a different hour of a day in the life of the city. Four program mentors will also contribute to the film. The final product will be set to a score of student-curated music, sound and spoken word.

The idea of the “city symphony” dates back to the 1920s, when now famous films like Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) and Etudes sur Paris (1928) were created. In an article in The Guardian, filmmaker Alex Barrett defines a city symphony as “a poetic, experimental documentary that presents a portrait of daily life within a city while attempting to capture something of the city’s spirit.” The vision for New Haven’s city symphony, the Artspace website says, is “a 24-minute film that envisions a summer day in the life of New Haven, starting at the moment many residents wake up, building into the bustle of the work day, and moving into the vibrant folds of the night.” The film will be on view in a culminating exhibition, The Sound We See: A New Haven City Symphony, to be mounted at Artspace from July 26 to September 14. The exhibition will include ephemera from each student’s process and from the group as a whole.

Getting their hands dirty—sometimes literally—is one of the elements of the project students seem to appreciate the most. The analog film they’ve already produced in their practice sessions “looks way cooler than I thought it would and is way simpler than I thought it would be,” says Pablo Giannotti-Garlinghouse, a Wilbur Cross High School student who also attends the Educational Center for the Arts. “And it’s really fun,” he adds.

Classmate Stella Martone, an ECA student from Branford, agrees and says despite its extra challenges—the need to set the aperture and use a light meter, for example—the 16-millimeter camera is special. “I really like how connected to the film you are with the 16-millimeter,” she says. “It’s very personal, and it’s yours because you touch it and you feel it and you get to see actually loading and going through, … so you kind of have a really good understanding of what’s happening while you’re filming.”

Giannotti-Garlinghouse and Martone are among the approximately 10,000 students that guest artists Davanzo and Lisa Marr have taught over the past 20 years under the auspices of their Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles, a cinema/film school/artist residency program run as a co-op with 200 events every year. Davanzo calls it a “beautiful, magical place.” But he’s clearly taken with New Haven, too. He and Marr are staying on Grand Avenue near Wooster Square and “having the time of our lives,” he says. The couple travels the world as Echo Park ambassadors, offering their educational workshops with an emphasis on “creative collaboration and community empowerment,” as Marr puts it in her bio. New Haven, Davanzo observes, is “a city that has many complexities and also beauties, and hopefully this film will celebrate those things and also point out some things that need to be discussed or shared.”

Artspace curator and gallery director Sarah Fritchey shares this sentiment. After hearing Davanzo speak at a conference in California, she says she knew instantly that Echo Park’s program was a good fit for Artspace’s summer apprentices. Davanzo and Marr have “a real willingness to be open, to be flexible, to be collaborators and then to follow the vision of the people that live in the city that they’re visiting,” Fritchey says.

That vision-following was evident in the Artspace gallery, where the students’ work-in-progress was charted on posters taped to the walls, including a schedule of the times and locations they planned to film, starting with a 5:30 a.m. shoot at Fair Haven’s abandoned Strong School. “We will have coffee in our bellies, dreams in our hearts,” Davanzo quips. That first day’s schedule would end at 11 p.m. at Modern Pizza, followed by three more days of moviemaking, day and night.

Later, students would process the film by hand, edit it and create its soundtrack, with an eye toward other city symphony films they’d viewed. For the sake of simplicity in this quick, three-week program, the film will be presented digitally, “but they’ll have the physical, original film as part of the gallery exhibition,” Davanzo says.

Fritchey hopes New Haven’s city symphony will reach into some of the “nooks and crannies” of the city that otherwise don’t get much attention. “I think this also lends an opportunity for the students in our program to talk about the things that maybe they struggle with, living in New Haven,” she says. “This isn’t necessarily just going to be a big lovefest. As much as it’s a lovefest about film, there really is room in the project to critically engage with the place that we live and the place we call home.”

The Sound We See: A New Haven City Symphony
Opening reception July 26, 4-7pm
Artspace – 50 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Wed-Sat noon-6pm, July 26-Sept 14
(203) 772-2709 |…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 3 features Lisa Marr. Image 5 features Paolo Davanzo.

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