Richard Sandler first hit my radar when Video Distributor MVD sent me a copy of The Gods Of Times Square. A fabulous documentary about the street preachers that used New York’s Times Square as their daily pulpit. This DVD is both funny and sad in the same scene. Richard captures the heyday and also the demise of this unique attraction. What brought on the demise? Well two things, the election of Giuliani as mayor, and Disney moving into the neighborhood. So here is a tip to all you street preachers, voting Rudy into the White House will likely shorten your career!

Richard Sandler captures the Disneyfication in the most profound way, my favorite quote from the DVD is the slightly off kilter ‘preacher’ telling the world “Mickey Mouse is the Anti Christ!”. Through some amazing good luck, Richard read my review, and contacted me, he also agreed to do an interview.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a video and filmmaker and a still photographer. I began still photography in 1977 working for a living as a photojournalist while making un-posed pictures of people on the streets of NYC. Street photographers takes the pulse of our time and when we do it well, the photos cut to the bone about what is really happening at street level. My photos are in the collections of some museums and in a lot of personal collections. I started street video in 1992 and have made four New York City documentaries to date. The Gods Of Times Square came out in 2001, and I followed that with Brave New York In 2004.

Brave New York is a free form documentary that loosely chronicles the last 12 years of intense change in the east village “hood.” From the reopening of a newly curfewed Tompkins Square Park and Wigstock in ‘92, to the destruction of the cherished Loisaida Community Gardens, to the yuppie invasions of the dot com years, to the present era, indelibly stamped with post-9/11 grief, this durable, lusty neighborhood survives in spite of a real estate gold rush that has excluded all but the well-to-do. The movie’s main voices are those of the artists and street people whose wisdom and commentaries upon the dominant culture give us pause amidst the speedy approach of a “Brave New World.”

SWAY (2006) is a free-form documentary about the underground portion of the NYC subway system edited from 12 years of daily shooting on the trains and on the platforms. Many brilliant and not so brilliant subway musicians are recorded.

Everybody Is Hurting (2006) is a documentary about 9/11 in NYC and the muscular debate and soul-searching that raged in Union Square Park in the days and weeks after the attacks. the piece ends with a coda of contextual video of the World Trade Center twin towers from the previous 10 years.

Prior to becoming a photographer I was a practicing, licensed acupuncturist,….I went to acupuncture school in england in 1971-1973…and prior to that I was a chef in the first natural foods restaurant in the US.

Gods of Times Square is a very curious documentary, is this your first foray into video making?

Yes, The Gods Of Times Square was my first foray into “video-making.” I did not realize at first that I was in fact making a documentary but as time went on I figured out what I was doing and then I pursued the documentation of pre-millennial times square with a passion.The changes in times square are reflective of the general trend in all our societies toward globalisation, and the institution of corporate pressure upon governments, forming thus a hybrid type of rule, wherein people are defined (amorally and apolitically) by the products and services of global corporations.

Where did the idea for Gods come from?

The idea for The Gods Of Times Square arose out of a still photography project, photographing the neon lights of times square. The more I hung around though, the more I heard the strident and urgent tones of a multitude of religious believers and god intoxicants that were drawn to the electric buzz of the place. I had just won a modest New York State grant for still photography so I had the dough to buy a video camera, hitting the streets now as a videographer as well as a street photographer. Also, I grew up going there a lot as a kid in the late 50’s and early 60’s: shooting pool and learning to be a hustler.

I would frequent the side-shows, “b” movie theaters and penny arcades as well, which held an irresistible fascination for a young teenager. The Times Square of my youth was edgy and it was safe. I was ushered into the gambling life of a pool player by well meaning adults to whom I would be an apprentice. Anyway, all that to say is, I was comfortable in times square and because of that, people seemed to come out of the woodwork to talk to me and my video camera.

I noticed that the footage was taken over several years, 1993 through 1996. Why the long time period? Budget or time problems?

No, the dates you have are wrong for some reason. “gods” was shot from 1993 to 1998, day and night. it took a long time because the story itself took that long to unfold. everybody knew that the old Times Square was about to end, but like a person on their last legs, it held on valiantly for a few years. Then Giuliani and Disney moved in…….and then it died.

Clearly you had a lot of fun making this movie. The characters you found are wonderful. Is there one that is your favorite?

I can’t say that I have a favorite person but I do have a special liking for “Billy Electron,” (I call him) who is the man with the cup, sitting on the sidewalk, seeing the macrocosm in the microcosmic movements of people on the street, who “used to be homeless, but now it isn’t even about that. I’m on a journey, I’m like learning something, something that most people miss”

Have you received a lot of positive feedback about the movie?

Yes and no: The Gods Of Times Square has been favorably received, and also some people hate it, because it is also a very scary movie, in that it reveals the shadowy sides of the European/Christian colonization of these lands. One reviewer called “gods” a horror film for that reason. Times Square traditionally was the “speaker’s corner” of New York where free speech was somewhat more protected than anywhere else . The people who feel that the corporate take-over of Times Square was a good thing, tend to hate my flick. Interestingly, mono-theists tend to like it, though they may take some offense at me for my ironic approach at times toward their religion.

Film making is an expensive proposition, how did you fund this project?

I have funded Gods and all my documentaries, in classical broke-filmmaker-credit card maxed out, maniacal and determined ways. In 2006 though I did receive a John Simon Guggenheim memorial foundation fellowship for film making, which has allowed me to bring my present film, AKA Martha’s Vineyard, close to completion. (from my mouth to god’s ears!). Shooting on video is far less expensive than shooting on film so my first 4 documentaries did not cost all that much to make, but vows of poverty still had to be taken.

What can we expect next from Richard Sandler?

I just finished a short treatment for a documentary I have been working on for many years called, AKA Martha’s Vineyard, which is a true film, that sees the lovely Massachusetts isle from the perspectives of the Wampanoag tribe, the islands indigenous people, still living there continuously after 15,000 years. The stories of time before time, and time after contact with Europeans, are told by elders and leaders of the tribe. The history of the contact era places Europeans inside their history rather than the other way around. Suffice it to say that their culture disintegrated under the heavy hand of conquest. that they still survive at all is something of a miracle. There are 350 native people living on this island they call “noepe” (it means the “place of refuge”) and on nearby Nantucket island there are none.

AKA Martha’s Vineyard is shot on super-8 and 16 MM films, video-tape, and on 35MM film as well. This short treatment will have it’s world premiere at the Rotterdam film festival in Holland, in two weeks.

Good luck in Rotterdam, and thank you for taking time to talk with Blogger News.

Simon Barrett

Be Sociable, Share!