When you open a puzzle box you find many disjunct pieces. While they have their own individual identity, when properly assembled, they reveal a full and descriptive image. This description applies to the documentary film anthology True New York. NYC is often referred to as the world’s greatest city. It might be American bravado bestowing this moniker but there’s no denying New York’s international appeal. Writer and director Jordan Roth hails from Canada but admits to harboring romanticism for New York City, which led to his immediate acceptance of Jeremy Workman’s invitation to become part of this Wheelhouse Creative production. True New York is a series of documentaries which, viewed together, reveals what we have always subconsciously understood; the charm and strength of New York City is found in its differences. Quite possibly more than any US city, New York is seen as the true American template; one in which different people and stories enrich each other’s lives…as these films enrich and inspire the audience.
Workman had seen Jordan Roth’s documentary film, entitled C Rock, about a Bronx rite of passage and was convinced that its creator understood the sentiment of what he was hoping to exhibit in True New York. Jeremy confirms, “It was a pleasure working with Jordan on True New York. He’s a great talent. We look forward to working with him further as his career progresses.” Jordan relates, “I think what actually makes True New York interesting and strong is that these are stories that all feel very human. They feel distinct to New York and these people all feel like New York characters, but even more…we’re connecting to their personal stories.
Asked about what he thinks is the New York experience, Jordan answers, “I think it’s about community. When you live in a great city like New York, on some level you feel a sense of pride and a sense of being a part of something. That might be corny but I think it’s true. You’re a part of the whole mess of the city. There’s an energy that comes from different types of people, from everywhere in the world, from vastly different backgrounds, all crammed together and trying to live in this space.”
True New York displays a variety of characters in the anthology. Taxi Garage (by Joshua Z Weinstein) is the story of a Queens taxi depot and follows Johnnie “Spider” Footman, a colorful octogenarian who is New York’s oldest taxi driver. Spider is a fascinating, sweet, funny guy who is surrounded by many other colorful characters. This story portrays more joy than one might presume. Jeremy Workman’s One Track Mind reveals the amazing story of Philip Coppola, who has devoted four decades to cataloging every station in the New York City subway system. Coppola is obsessive and seems odd at first but as the story delves into his life’s work, something beautiful and impressive is revealed. Sam Cullman and Benjamin Rosen’s Black Cherokee focuses on Otis Houston Jr., a self-taught artist from Harlem who performs along Manhattan’s FDR Drive. Many might have driven by Otis working on the road and have missed the experience of witnessing a true modern artist. A Son’s Sacrifice follows a 27-year-old who confronts his mixed Bangladeshi-Puerto Rican heritage and tries to gain acceptance from his father’s conservative community in this film by Yoni Brook. Finally, C-Rock (by Roth) explores a group of Bronx kids who leap off a 100-foot tall cliff into the Harlem River, a dangerous rite of passage going back generations. These five stories from completely different walks of life are relatable in their characters’ struggles and endeavors. The emotional element they all reveal is universal and deeply human. We meet people all trying to make it through another day and better their situation in some small way.
Fans of documentary films are steadily increasing. While scripted movies are valued for their characters in exceptional circumstances, documentaries reveal the exceptional everyday people who may otherwise go unnoticed. The protagonists of documentaries are complex because they are real, possessing flaws. What initially drew Jordan to True New York was the potential of a venue for the kind of stories that the film market doesn’t typically allow to be seen. Only by seeking this paradigm shift will filmmakers bring fresh ideas and stories to the public.
When asked what he loves about New York, Roth notes, “Again, there’s a sense of community. I don’t really mean that it’s this sense that everyone is arm and arm and loving each other. It’s just that everyone is here in this place, together. There are people living here from everywhere in the world, all different cultures and backgrounds, all pushed together. There’s an energy I feel when I’m walking around in New York that is completely unique. I also love how accessible everything feels in the city, being able to hop on the train and get pretty much anywhere. I love the history and the cultural richness of the city.” He adds, “I also love the food. “
As a Canadian, Roth feels fortunate to work in the United States and call it home for now. “I feel strongly Canadian, but I love this country and care about it. I’m even an American history dork. I studied American history in school. I also know I’m just very lucky to live in the U.S. and pursue my work here.”