It’s been a full year since the city closed, we sought refuge indoors, and our lives changed. While the COVID-19 death count climbed into the tens of thousands in New York, Greenpoint photographer Catalina Kulczar masked up, took to the streets, and shot a short film entitled “When We Paused.”
Now free on Vimeo, the film, shot on a Bolex 16mm film camera, is as much an ode and collage as it is a film, though the medium is beautifully realized. The moving documentation shows Greenpoint’s transition from ghost town in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic, to the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the city and world. Here, Catalina opens up about the process of crafting this unique piece.
When was “When We Paused” filmed? It seems like it’s almost exactly a year ago — no one is on the streets, the neighborhood looks deserted.
I filmed this on two separate walks in early April. I remember feeling terrified of leaving the house. I made a point of going outside every other day to stay sane. At the same time, I was curious see what Greenpoint was like during those frightening first few weeks of the pandemic.
What were you hoping to capture through a 16mm lens?
I’ve had this 16mm film camera for a while. Before everything started, my goal for 2020 was to focus more on shooting on film. Then, the pandemic happened, everything was pushed back, but at some point I got started.
I needed to put my mind on something else, and I thought walking around the neighborhood and register what I saw would be a good exercise.
During those walks, I remembered how the documentary “Los Sures” portrayed South Williamsburg in a raw and honest way. I was hoping to capture details of a very vulnerable moment, a shutdown of everyday life, empty streets, playgrounds closed, all of which coincided with the BLM movement. A visual time capsule.
I love all the shots of the signs on businesses’ doors and windows. They’re such poignant artifacts of the time.
I HEARD those signs. They felt like a non-verbal conversation between the community.
Can you discuss the score and music in this piece? How did that come about and what tone felt important to strike?
The score, Close Encounters, was composed by a friend and talented musician Jack Ramsey, based in Seattle. He performed it on an IG live session around the time I shot these sequences. It moved me and I felt it could be a great fit for the piece. I am glad he agreed.
Your piece seamlessly links the pandemic with the BLM uprising, was that transition meant to be shown with such swiftness?
This point in time truly was a collision between a global health crisis and a national racial crisis. Racism has been rampant in this country and I think being at home REALLY brought this racism to the forefront; there was no escaping it no matter where in the US you lived. The protests were inspiring and necessary and documenting these visual marks of protests were my way or supporting, documenting and lifting the movement. In my piece, showing both was essential for posterity.
Are there any shots you were fond of that did not make it into this final cut?
I shot it, Jack agreed to let me use his score, and in the spirit of collaboration, I asked my friend Ivan Cordoba to edit it with full creative freedom. A true collaboration.
What are your biggest takeaways from this project?
Let’s do our part and keep wearing masks, social distancing and get vaccinated, so we can return to a new version of normal. Finally, there is a feeling of hope, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s be patient and smart these next few critical months. Let’s be kind to one another. Let’s care about our neighbors and support our local businesses. We are so close.