Recently named Best Documentary at the Red Hook Film and Video Festival, The Hole is a short portrait of a forgotten, below-sea-level NYC neighborhood— where the Federation of Black Cowboys is based, and where the Mob is said to dump bodies— directed by Billy Feldman and Courtney Sell, the latter of whom answered some questions for us.
Where, exactly, is “The Hole”?
“The Hole” is a partially flooded five-block neighborhood on the border of Brooklyn and Queens where chickens run freely in the streets. It can be reached by taking the A/C to the Grant stop and walking a few blocks over.
You’re presenting the neighborhood as a place out of time— how connected would you say the neighborhood is to the life of the city?
Being in The Hole, it’s easy to forget that you’re even in New York City, or in the year 2010 for that matter. The Hole is nearly cut off from the rest of the city, and only fragments of New York life exist, as if it were a post-apocalyptic vision of the Big Apple. Abandoned homes and broken-down cars fill the empty lots, and piles of trash, tires, and old children’s toys slowly decay in the murky puddles of Ruby Street. Cowboys on horseback commonly roam through the flooded streets as well. It is essentially a ghost town, or becoming quite close to one. It is also one of the only neighborhoods in New York City that I have seen where ducks float down knee-deep puddles in the middle of the streets.
Who were the Mafia bodies supposedly dumped there?
There were bodies being discovered throughout the 90s, and from many of the residents’ stories, the body count at one point was extremely high— however, the identities of those corpses remain a mystery, nor are they important. Even as we worked to document the neighborhood as honestly as possible, we understood that the myth of The Hole is just as important as the facts themselves.
How’d you find out about the neighborhood?
Mainly from word-of-mouth; at one point it was being referred to as “The Lower Ninth Ward of New York.” At the time, I was a resident of New Orleans, and hearing this interested me very much. When Billy (the co-director) and I began talking about shooting the film, we had trouble finding information. There were hardly any stories, documentaries, or news articles on The Hole, and when we would tell people about it, no one would believe us that such a place existed! A place in New York where cesspools are used instead of sewer systems and cowboys on horseback still patrol the streets. So we decided to go there, see if it really did exist; and once there, we were so compelled by what we saw, we began shooting. We wanted to explore the area in a way that would allow things to happen naturally. The Hole is such a surreal environment anyway, that even if you were to shoot a conventional documentary, it would still turn out to be a surrealistic film.
For info on upcoming screenings, see courtneysell.com