In October 2008, in the midst of the Barack Obama / John McCain presidential election and the mortgage crisis, filmmaker Rachel Shuman took to the streets of New York City with Clay Pigeon, host of The Dusty Show on WFMU, interviewing people as they made their way across Manhattan and other boroughs. The Boston-born, Beacon-based Shuman intended to capture a moment in time and not release the film until after Obama’s second term ended to see how life in the city changed. The result is One October, a kind of love letter to who we were, are, and will be. Inspired by Chris Marker’s 1963 film Le Joli Mai, in which the French director interviewed people on the streets of Paris, Shuman follows Pigeon, Radio Shack mini tape recorder in hand, as he wanders through Central Park, Harlem, Washington Square Park, the Lower East Side, Madison Square Park, the Financial District, the Brooklyn Bridge, Willets Point, Tompkins Square Park, and other locations, approaching a series of men and women who share fascinating details about their personal and professional lives; the Iowa-born Pigeon has an innate knack for quickly understanding his subjects, asking intuitive questions that often surprise them. He speaks with a former freelance photographer who now works construction to make more money for his family, an ambitious lawyer who wants to work at the UN, a mixed-race couple sitting on a bench, a woman railing against the gentrification of Harlem, and a homeless man who turns the tables on the soft-spoken Pigeon. “It’s always interesting to see how the random collection of souls falls together and how the next chapter bears fruit or lies fallow,” he says on his radio show.
In between interviews, cinematographer David Sampliner beautifully photographs trees, buildings, storefronts, statues, the Halloween Parade, political rallies, the Columbus Day Parade, a housing protest, the Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, birds flying across blue skies, Muslims praying at the end of Ramadan, and Jews performing the ritual of Tashlich, casting away their sins by throwing pieces of bread into the East River. The shots, which include classic New York restaurants as well as institutions that have since closed, are accompanied by a bittersweet score by Paul Brill, featuring cellist Dave Eggar. Director, editor, and producer Shuman (Negotiations) has created a loving warning about the future of a city that has been undergoing major changes since October 2008. Executive produced by three-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton, the hour-long One October runs May 11-17 at the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, where it will be shown with Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr.’s ten-minute short The Monolith, about artist Gwyneth Leech’s reaction when a new high-rise hotel threatens her view of the city skyline from her studio window. Most screenings will be followed by a special Q&A and/or panel discussion, including a behind-the-scenes interview with Pigeon and a Q&A with Shuman and Leech on May 11, a Q&A with Shuman and Pigeon on May 12, a Q&A with Shuman, Sampliner, and Monolith cinematographer Andy Bowley on May 13, an editing panel with Shuman and Monolith editor Rosie Walunas on May 15, and a hyper-gentrification panel with Michael Henry Adams and Nellie Hester Bailey on May 16.