Local Reel Estate

Local Reel Estate

Fans of Best Video Film and Cultural Center in Hamden know just where to go in the maze of shelves to find the latest Top Hits or the Best of the Best. But even they may have walked right by one of the most interesting collections the last video store in Connecticut has to offer. Located on an endcap next to the coffee bar, between New Music Arrivals and Film—that is, films about film—is the Local Connecticut Filmmakers section. Among its gems, which run the gamut from low-budget grit to Hollywood slick, greater New Haven creatives are well represented.

Andrew Jenks, Room 335 (2006) charts an unlikely project. College student Andrew Jenks moves into Harbor Place, an assisted living facility in Florida, for one month. Jenks’s vaguely stated goal is to hang out with some fellow “outcasts” and find out whether they know the meaning of life, but he and his friends, editor/cinematographer Jonah Pettigrew of New Haven and producer William Godel, get much more than they bargained for, including a surprising emotional attachment to the elderly strangers who become their temporary neighbors. Variety magazine called the film “a lovely and genuine account of generational understanding,” but it’s also, at times, disquieting. There’s no filmish facade to this compelling social experiment. Though Jenks is the purported subject, Pettigrew and Godel are often caught on camera with their headphones and their gear, and it seems that keeping an artistic distance from their project is impossible. “You boys!” one elderly woman exclaims, and it’s clear that all three of them have wormed their way into the hearts of at least some of the Harbor Place residents.

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Another college experience turned life-changer is documented in More Than Walking (2009), a 25-minute film written and directed by Jonathan Sigworth, a 2005 Hamden High School graduate, about his experiences as a quadriplegic following a bike accident while he was studying abroad in India. Sigworth returns to the country where his life was changed forever—not to lament or ruminate over his loss, but to teach fellow quadriplegics in India some of the skills he has learned: how to get out of bed and into his wheelchair by himself, how to play a modified game of rugby, how to embrace the possibilities for life after tragedy. It’s a stunning demonstration of human resilience and faith that leaves us questioning the limits we’ve placed on ourselves and others.

Loved, Alone (2002), a 15-minute drama written and produced by New Haven’s Gina Capristo-Gajdosik, was shot on location in Edinburgh, Scotland, and stars Beth Winslet, younger sister of Kate. Gajdosik packs a lot into 15 minutes—a deep family secret, a love betrayal, a mysterious woman in a mask, a hasty engagement—and the film is worth watching more than once to follow its quick, dark turns.

You’ll also find a collection of Hamden filmmaker Gorman Bechard’s black-and-white shorts from the early 2000s on the Connecticut shelf. But if you branch out to Documentaries, you’ll find his full-length film A Dog Named Gucci (2015). Animal lovers may find Gucci, which Bechard edited, wrote and directed, tough to watch, but the story of a 10-week-old Husky/Chow puppy who was hung from a tree, doused with lighter fluid and set on fire is surprisingly upbeat. Gucci survived his ordeal, and the incident ignited a years-long battle to make cruelty to animals a felony punishable with prison time. The inspirational story of Gucci’s rescuer, Doug James, who witnessed the aftermath of the attack, as well as the stories of Susie, Louis Vuitton, Nitro and a roll call of other dogs at the end of the film illustrates that determined people who care about animals can make a difference. In 2014, the film tells us, South Dakota was the final state to pass a felony animal cruelty law, and animal abuse is now tracked by the FBI as a “crime against society.”

There will be plenty more great local films to view later this year at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival in June. And in July local filmmakers will race the clock to make their art during New Haven’s piece of the international 48 Hour Film Project. The local producer of that project, Trish Clark, offers up a few more recommendations for screening your neighbors’ work before then. Steve Hamm’s The Village: Life in New Haven’s Little Italy (2018) is a history piece on life in Wooster Square. Bechard’s follow-ups to Gucci, the “rock docs” Who Is Lydia Loveless? (2016) and What It Takes (2018), are available in Best Video’s Top Hits section. And don’t miss Stephen Dest’s I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story (2017), a powerful piece of personal storytelling in which New Haven’s Henry Green talks about his dual life as a gifted high school actor and a jaded gang member.

Bechard, meanwhile, is finishing up a documentary on a local topic long overdue for a film treatment: pizza. No doubt that’ll be available on Best Video’s shelves, too, once it’s done cooking.

Best Video Film and Cultural Center
1842 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Sun-Tues 9am-9pm, Wed-Thurs 9am-10pm, Fri-Sat 9am-10pm
(203) 287-9286

Written and photographed Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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