I hate New York
For those of us who spent most of the hours after midnight of the Giuliani years on the smoke-covered dance floors of places like Limelight and The Pyramid Club, I Hate New York, the debut of Barcelona-born journalist Gustavo Sánchez, is a walk in one Age of innocence reminder. A time before September 11th, when royal nightclubs like Amanda Lepore and Sophia Lamar were as ubiquitous as the flyers in St. Mark's record stores displaying their names.
For those not immersed in trans-fabulous NYC lore, the aforementioned Lepore is best known as the longtime (Jessica Rabbit-esque) muse of David LaChapelle, while (Lepore's ex-boyfriend) Lamar is a no-nonsense refugee from Castro's Cuba is who she began reinventing as an avant-garde artist during NYC's punk heyday. For over a decade (2007-2017), Sánchez accompanied her various East Village excursions, following trans and AIDS activist Chloe Dzubilo, singer of pioneering punk band Transisters, and activist / DJ / rapper T De Lange. The resulting film, a clear-eyed downtown history lesson, is based on hundreds of hours of interviews, wall observations, and VHS-style footage. Fortunately, from contemporary Tompkins Square Park to SqueezeBox from the past, I Hate New York is also a nostalgic love letter than a cinematic poison pen.
On the day the film was digitally released on September 1, the filmmaker met with Sánchez, who became the youngest radio host in Spain in elementary school, to find out why and how he decided to document the dogged survivors of a long, corporate-co-opted underground scene .
Filmmakers: How did this decades-long project begin? Has the focus always been on these four characters, or did you film with other New York nightlife figures?
Sánchez: The project began in 2007 with the intention of documenting the essence of New York's underground scene after September 11th – a critical moment when the city saw much of the subculture that had disappeared for decades. I wanted almost journalistically to portray the spirit of a time that was quickly fading.
For several years, I collected hundreds of hours of footage about the opinions, experiences and confessions of musicians, filmmakers, writers, designers, strippers, nightlife promoters, as well as countless artists and anonymous characters.
Of all these voices, some stood out for their particular strength and demeanor. The four protagonists of this story took on the film in a very special way. I hate New York showing my admiration for their struggle and determination to be free, live and express themselves.
Filmmakers: You're from Barcelona and haven't really seen the NYC scene that put these nightlife stars in the spotlight. How has your outsider status affected your intimate access to such image-conscious characters? (Though I suspect sharing a native language with Cuban born Sophia Lamar helped earn her trust.)
Sánchez: I never felt like an outsider in New York. I arrived with a humble and respectful demeanor, and the city and its people welcomed and accompanied me at all times.
I could ask, watch, and listen. I always carried my small camera in my coat pocket and filmed around the clock. I searched for the truth in order to capture reality, the "crucial moment". And after many years and hundreds of hours of shooting, I sometimes succeeded!
I never wanted to be the protagonist of the documentary. I rejected the voice-over from the start. I never wanted to appear on the set. (I can only be heard once if I ask a question.) Later in the editorial room, I specifically devoted myself to eliminating excessive or attempted dramatization by the protagonists – in continuation of my search for the capture of truths only.
Another important point is that this documentary was made due to a lack of technical resources – for example, for the right lighting, the right sound or the right stabilization. Economic resources too, as I never had a production company to finance the project. The lack of these conventions allowed me the freedom and also the naturalness to remove barriers between myself and the protagonists. By reducing the film structure to a minimum, I was able to gain agility and time to capture reality.
Filmmakers: I read in your biography that you grew up in Spain in the 80s and 90s and were later cinematically influenced by the work of John Cameron Mitchell and Jonathan Caouette. But how did the post-Franco environment in which you grew up (and which brought us Almodóvar) influenced your decision to pursue a career in journalism and later in filmmaking, since the dictatorship didn't fall until 1975?
Sánchez: Spain of the 80s and 90s was, from a distance, an area of creative freedom that we now almost envy. I grew up in a country that had to reinvent itself in a very short time, driven by necessity but also by a unique and unbridled energy that has not yet been regulated by trends or globalization.
My restlessness and curiosity are the result of that special moment in Spain when everything seemed possible. I wanted to trace the same spirit back to New York, to the struggles for freedom of thought and expression that generations before me had longed for.
During my teens, I was imbued with all kinds of independent cinema, both American and global, from my older brother. In the early 2000s, I was amazed at the rawness of Jonathan Caouette's documentary Tarnation, which somehow inspired me to portray people from a position of extreme intimacy. On the other hand, John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus connected me to a generation of marginalized New York artists who struggled to express themselves freely.
I hate New York is an ode to freedom, an ode of love to people who set no limits for themselves, who transgress. But it is also a necessary state of mind – one that does not conform to the prevailing constraints and also confirms the original nature of creativity, spontaneity and the uniqueness of each person.
With this film I wanted to deliver a strong blow. It's a statement of "That's enough!" I want the stories of these four artists to reach all those people with power and prejudice who limit, silence, suppress and humiliate the weaker.
Filmmakers: You worked in various media and even started hosting a radio program at the age of seven. How did your journalistic skills influence the creation of this debut feature? Did your track record even help with funding in the end?
Sánchez: I Hate New York is my first film and it is no doubt the result of patient work and constant and determined learning. Yes, as a kid and teenager, I was the youngest radio host in Spain. At that time I was already interviewing dozen of stars from music, film and culture. I then studied languages, literature and audiovisual communication at university – a degree that enabled me to combine my journalistic calling with my passion for film. I think over the years a documentary filmmaker has been forged without my knowing it.
Because of my journalistic vocation, stories – true stories – without filters, without cheaters, are most important to me. To capture seconds of reality that can be analyzed as time capsules over the years, waiting to be discovered and explored by future generations.
This documentary has always been a self-funded project, despite the generous and unconditional support of hundreds of people around the world. I have never resorted to public or private funding or crowdfunding platforms. I wanted to experiment with my own resources at all costs, and with the few resources that were available to me.
The truth is, I didn't have much interest in being part of the vast industrial network involved in making a movie. I think that would have affected his spontaneity. I preferred to write a different story. I was very excited when I deliberately went against the tide – to escape the pressures, creative demands and deadlines of the industry.
Last year when the film was practically edited, I showed brothers Carlos and J.A. Bayona. They were both amazed at the love and stories of struggle I Hate New York was telling. They and their entire team did not hesitate to take part in the executive production of the film.
Filmmakers: The archive images you use act like a home theater. Where did you find all of this footage and how much did you end up working with?
Sánchez: The archive images are home productions by VHS, Betacam or Super 8 from the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s and (which) connect the present with the origin of the real stories presented. In general, these are simple audiovisual pieces, but in my opinion they capture magical moments of the New York underground for the past three decades.
In order to reconstruct the career of the artist and activist Chloe Dzubilo, I was fortunate enough to meet the generosity of the filmmakers Katrina del Mar and Alice O’Malley. For Amanda Lepore, I counted on important downtown photographers like Jacob Fuglsang Mikkelsen, Caroline Torem Craig and Miguel Villalobos. They all gave me access to their video and photo archives with the ultimate goal of spreading the pictures and showing the world the long silent life and work of the protagonists. To my surprise, the vast majority of the pieces that appear fit together like a puzzle.
The process of collecting rights was the result of very intensive documentation work. The montages were endless, but when we found a transcendental video we struggled to get it. It wasn't always possible to include everything we would have liked, although I think the result is the best version possible, much better than we could ever have imagined.