Susi Dollnig's short film "Just Passing By" is a warm and casual glimpse of the lives of a handful of New Yorkers who sat down with the filmmaker at a cafe table she set up on different streets around the city (see the trailer here). Until they made the on-the-spot decision to sit and share their stories, the people in the film were strangers to Dollnig, but they opened up quickly with tales of their experiences with struggles including failed relationships, jail, and war. Sitting across the small table from the filmmaker, who remains as silent as Marina Abramović, the men and women share their stories of hardships in a conversational, matter-of-fact way. The film was shot entirely outdoors on sunny days at famous locations such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Coney Island boardwalk as well as more everyday street corners, and despite the sometimes harrowing stories, it is a bright and relaxed bit of reporting that lets its subjects do all the talking.
Dollnig says the relaxed pace of the film is a reaction against the rapid, nonstop communication in which we now all participate. "In the United States, there's so much more social media going on at the moment," says the filmmaker, a native of Austria who made the film as her MFA thesis project at the New York Film Academy last year. "Eveybody's texting, everybody's communicating over Facebook, and it's really fast and really short. I feel like the conversations get kind of lost--sitting down and listening to people and talking. It's actually pretty relevant to do something like that, because I feel like it's so important to have those conversations--kind of like philosophizing."
The common theme between the different stories in the film is that the people speaking are survivors who've recognized the lessons their experiences have handed them. One of them talks about how wanting to be a good father led him to give up his life of crime; another talks about how the death of her father caused her to stop feeling as though the world revolves around her. A soldier says, "I live life every day like it was my last," holding back tears in the Coney Island sun as he remembers escaping death in Iraq.
"Just Passing By" has been playing the US in festivals including the New York Los Angeles International Film Festival and the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festvial, and La Jolla, California's Best Shorts gave it an award of merit. It will be shown in a screening of short films in the New York No Limits film series on Thursday, June 27 at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 E. 3rd St., at 7 pm; admission is $8 in advance, $10 at the door; see http://www.newyorknolimits.com/ for more information.