Jen Senko and Fiore DeRosa, Filmmakers
Senko and DeRosa’s documentary The Vanishing City highlights the political maneuvers that drove the transformations of neighborhoods across New York City, as working-class peoples were displaced and luxury high-rises erected. In October, it’ll screen as part of Brooklyn Reconstructed, an ongoing documentary film series about development in Kings County.
What neighborhood do you live in?
JS: I live in Soho—but I’ve lived in Soho before it became the Soho of expensive shops and European travelers and uber-rich New York shoppers. My Soho is a neighborhood. We all know each other and say hello to each other on the street. We hang out at each other’s apartments and do favors for each other—like watch each other’s cats or accept a package or screw or unscrew a light bulb. If you’re tall like me, you get asked that.
FD: The area I live has been sort of a non-descript area. It is west of Soho and south of the Village and until recently could have been either the South Village or Soho, but since the construction boom it has been labeled Hudson Square. Much of Scorsese’s cult film After Hours was shot there in the early 80s. I enjoy living here because it is close to Soho and the Village. And because it’s off the beaten path, it is really quiet on the weekends.
How long have you been in NYC? What brought you here?
JS: I’ve lived in New York a long, long time. I went to Pratt in Brooklyn in the late 70s, then moved away for about four years, and came back to settle in New York in 1982. I always thought I’d live in the country but being an artist I felt at home in New York.
FD: I’ve lived in Manhattan, in Hudson Square for the past 31 years.
What’s your favorite place your work has been screened in NYC?
JS: All of the places we’ve screened have been great, but I think my favorite place was the Casabe House in East Harlem for an African American history class taught by Teresa Willis. Some of the students were homeless and a contingent from Picture the Homeless was there. I was so impressed with all of them; how organized, brave and smart they were. Some of them had minimum wage jobs, but couldn’t afford apartments so they lived in shelters, yet they still had the determination and spirit to educate themselves and try to see what they could do to better their world and the world for everyone else.
FD: We had a few screenings that really stand out. The screening at the Film Forum was one of my favorites because I like the venue and the people that support it. Also, the audiences that came to the Film Forum, Resistance Cinema and The Shomburg Center were really incredible. All three audiences had a really visceral response to the film and at times even stood up and shouted responses to the events on the screen. It was awesome! I also thought both the Harlem Film Festival and The Williamsburg Film Festivals were pretty terrific.
Where would you love to see it that you haven’t yet?
FD: I would really like to see our film broadcast on PBS, Sundance, The Doc Channel or any television venue that could help us share this film with a larger audience. Many people assume that The Vanishing City is strictly about New York City, but when they see it they realize it has much larger implications. This documentary demonstrates what is going on in many major cities here and around the globe. It deals with the effects of globalization on working communities worldwide.
JS: Like Fiore, I would love to see our film on PBS. It’s perfect for it. Also, Sundance and The Doc Channel would allow us to share the film with a larger audience.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be? Dead?
FD: I really like collaborating with people on just about anything. I don’t find it any fun working alone on a project. And filmmaking is a collaborative art. Collaborating with Jen and the rest of our crew on The Vanishing City was great. It would have been a breeze if we had more access to funding. There are a number of New York filmmakers I really admire. The first would be Cassavetes. I remember the first time I saw A Woman Under the Influence and how deeply affected I was by the characters. I actually turned off the film for a few moments because I felt deeply embarrassed for them, as if I were in the room with them. I also really admire Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Spike Lee, and would love to work with them to experience their process.
JS: My dream would be to collaborate on anything with Patti Smith, but given that I wouldn’t know what to collaborate with her on, I would then love to collaborate with Errol Morris—originally from Long Island. I love his sensibility. He’s brilliant and I figure could really lend me a hand with my next documentary… that brings me to your next question.
What’s next for you?
JS: Just to take a break from all of the “fight,” I’ve been working on a dark comedy screenplay based on a true story about my family, but activism is so much a part of who I am. So my next project is something I started years ago but put away while I was working on Vanishing with Fiore. It’s called The Brainwashing of My Dad, which is about how certain media on the right… after the turning of the tide against the Vietnam war, Nixon decided to create a media which would present their point of view and most specifically, target old white men and those who could be easily brainwashed—namely, those who felt disenfranchised.
FD: I am nearly done with another documentary based on a best selling novel Rats by Robert Sullivan. I am co-directing with Chris Iversen, who did such a brilliant job editing The Vanishing City. It is in post and should be done in three to six months. I also have collaborated on two screenplays with my writing partner Samantha Talbot that our agent, the Robert Freedman Agency, is shopping around. Jen and I have been talking about working on another doc as well.