Inspired by everyday New Yorkers who hustle through life and fight to survive, documentarian Alexander Hankoff presents NYChapters.
Inspired by everyday, take-no-bullshit New Yorkers who hustle through life and fight to survive, documentarian Alexander Hankoff has launched NYChapters, a new short film series about New Yorkers finding their own small spaces of peace and creativity.
A Brooklyn pet store owner talks of liking his animals far more than his customers, a carriage driver laments the politics of his profession, and a subway busker sings the blues. These are just some of the stories that make up the new anthology series NYChapters, a glorious, exclusively-monochrome collection of short films about everyday New Yorkers by director Alexander Hankoff.
“The philosophy behind the series is that everyone lives in their own version of New York,” Hankoff says. “What seems like a normal day in NYC to one person is a completely exotic existence for another.”
A native New Yorker himself, Hankoff sought out subjects who felt at one with the city they call home. “People who hustle, who are expressive and true to themselves. People who don’t take bullshit, and fight to survive.” He confesses it wasn’t hard to find such residents. “NYC breeds these people.”
When it came to NYChapters‘ distinct visual style, Hankoff says that there was never any doubt in making the films black and white – “New York begs to be photographed in monochrome.” He’s also been lucky when it comes to composers, including his most recent collaborator: his own brother Damon. “The music comes rather organically, and as we discuss the story and the subject, a tone and mood begins to come through.”
A key inspiration was also relatively unconscious. “About a month ago I was watching on Netflix [Foxcatcher director] Bennett Miller’s first film: The Cruise. It’s a documentary that follows around a wonderfully captivating character – a man named Tim ‘Speed’ Levitch, who worked as a double-decker bus tour guide in the late 1990’s. It’s an incredible character study. That movie really resonated with me as a New York filmmaker and I realised that it must have had a subliminal effect on me and my decision to create this series.”
One of the key themes that runs through the series, intentional or not, is the looming spectre of gentrification – pet store owner Jerry ruminates on Brooklyn’s ever-shifting transformation since he first moved to the borough, while Brian “Monkey” Northam talks of the animal rights activists campaigning to ban the horse-drawn carriages that have long traversed the city.
But Hankoff didn’t intend the theme to especially dominate his films. “New York City is constantly in flux, it always has been and always will be,” he says. “I’m sure that in 1660 when the citizens of New Amsterdam built the Wall on what is now Wall Street, there were people who argued that the city was ‘much better before that damn wall went up!'”
Even so, he understands why it’s a bone of contention for many of his subjects. “The city is going through an accelerated development phase so inherently many of the people I’ve encountered are victims of the times,” he adds. “All I can do is to be aware and to present their stories with integrity and respect.”