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The Reeler Blog

Quiet City Never Sleeps

By Chris Willard

The Reeler climbed the stairs to the roof of the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, Saturday for a look at director Aaron Katz’s Quiet City, the latest installment in Rooftop Films’ summer series. It was a Brooklyn-based night, as Rooftop's artistic director Mark Rosenberg pointed out in his introduction; Creaky Boards -- whose front man Andrew Hoepfner gets the award for most interesting interpretive dance involving a tambourine -- opened the show with its breed of Brooklyn-based anti-folk, setting the stage for Katz’s engaging Park Slope-set film.

The Quiet ones: Composer Keegan DeWitt, actor Cris Lankenau, filmmaker Aaron Katz and Rooftop Films' Mark Rosenberg discuss Katz's Quiet City Saturday in Brooklyn (Photo: Ryan Bell)

Quiet City opens loudly with the title stretched in large letters across the screen and a rush of music from composer Keegan DeWitt’s original score. The film is the story of Jamie (Erin Fisher), who is visiting her friend Samantha in Park Slope. After exiting the F train, however, Jamie can’t contact Samantha, and she is left stranded in an unfamiliar city with no idea where her friend lives. Jamie runs into Charlie (Cris Lankenau) in the subway terminal and asks for directions to a local diner. He volunteers to wait with her until her friend arrives. Samantha never shows, and the two embark on a search for Jamie’s missing friend, exploring the quiet streets of Park Slope and finding solace in the “city that never sleeps.”

After the screening, Katz, Lankenau and DeWitt joined Rosenberg for a Q&A, and while the audience remained mum, Rosenberg quizzed Katz, who only moved to New York from Portland in 2004, on how he was able to create such a quiet film about such a bustling city. “In a lot of films about New York, there’s sort of a lot of things you see all the time," Katz said in the Q&A. "Midtown or people hanging out in Brooklyn: [in a Brooklyn accent] 'Hey, it’s Brooklyn.' I feel like there’s a lot of clichés about what New York films are usually like, and I wanted to, I guess, do something different to kind of explore that other side.”

Katz said he let the camera roll for extended takes while shooting, which gives the film several long, uninterrupted scenes of interaction between Jamie and Charlie, while often providing awkward tension and an almost voyeuristic experience for the audience. “I’d written the script as a full feature-length script [with] 120 pages or so,” Katz said. "But what I wanted to try was something I hadn’t tried before, which was to have the script there just as a basic structure for how the film would be laid out, but then each scene would be in the actors’ own words. And [I wanted the film] not to feel bound by words, but also not to feel like -- when it’s pure improv, people feel a lot of pressure to be clever, and so I wanted them to have the script there as a guideline.

Lankenau said the script placed the characters in certain situations, but that Katz directed the actors to just speak as they naturally would. “It helped that me and Erin Fisher, who plays Jamie, didn’t know each other at all when we started shooting the movie,” Lankenau said. “So a lot of the conversations that we have on camera are pretty genuine. We really were just trying to get to know each other, and a lot of the time that would be, not more interesting or better than what was in the script, but more organic, I guess.”

Quiet City opens Aug. 29 at IFC Center as part of the venue's Generation DIY series; visit IFC Center's Web site for more information. Rooftop Films' summer series continues through Sept. 22.

Posted at August 6, 2007 10:04 AM

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