by Lela Scott MacNeil
June 15th, 2010

The Rooftop Films “Home Movies” program featured an assortment of short documentaries that touched on the familiar topics of love, loss, and family. In A Grumpy Old Man, director Rachel Tracy gives us a small glimpse into the life of seventy-seven-year-old Sid, and the story that changed his life forever.

We get a tour of the clocks that fill the walls of his apartment, and through them a look at the life these objects have been around to witness. The hand-held camera work and minimal lighting give the short a personal, honest feel that fits the subject matter well. Using this intimate storytelling style she pulls back the curtain on Sid and lets us see the man hiding behind the weathered tattoos, flashy gold jewelry, and omnipresent cigarettes.

Rooftop Films spoke with Rachel about the first cigarette she shared with Sid, the process of creating the film, and why collecting clocks makes sense after  that moment in your life when time stood still.

Rooftop Films: Give a brief description of your film for those who haven’t seen it.

Rachel Tracy: Seventy-seven-year-old Sid takes us on a tour of his clock collection and talks about a moment in his life when time stood still.

RF: How did you find your subject?

RT: I live on a small council estate in North London; I’ve been here for 3 and a half years. Sid lives in the sheltered accommodation which forms part of the estate; he’s been living in his block for the last 17 years. I was lucky enough to meet Sid while he was smoking a cigarette outside my block on his mobility scooter. I told him I wanted to make a film about someone who lived on their own and he said: ‘Wednesday. Come to our coffee morning.’ I went, Sid and I got on really well and, a few days later, he let me upstairs to his flat for a chat and a cigarette.

RF: Did he tell you a lot of stories? How did you decide what to feature in the film?

RT: Sid did tell me a few stories but, to be honest, he was more interested in who I was and what I did with my time! That said, when I saw the clocks, I knew they’d have to feature somewhere in the film.

RF: Did you expect for the film to be almost only one shot?

RT: No! I spent some time filming with Sid before and after this scene took place but it wasn’t until I came to edit, and looked at my rushes, that I realized this was the scene that really moved me. The themes of ‘time’ and ‘moments’ were really important to my film so I wondered whether this one scene, shot in one take, could stand on its own – whether it could be the whole film.

RF: Do you think there’s a relationship between the subject’s clock collection and the lovely, sad story he tells you?

RT: Absolutely! To me, Sid’s clock collection is a metaphor for growing older. Every second that passes is one that we’ll never be able to live again and Sid has chosen to surround himself with visual reminders of this. His story, about a moment in his past which caused his life to take a turn, is made all the sadder because he knows that, even if he wanted to, he’ll never be able to go back – to change the way he behaved or to say the words that have been left unsaid.

RF: Do you really think he’s that grumpy? Why did you choose to title the film that?

RT: I called the film ‘A Grumpy Old Man’ on Sid’s suggestion. You can see that he told me to at the beginning of the film! As it happens, Sid is one of the kindest, wittiest and most interesting people I know… but he can be grumpy!

RF: Are you a full-time filmmaker? If not, what else are you up to?

RT: I’m continuing to work as an Assistant Producer for TV documentaries. I am currently developing a documentary series for Channel 4 and am looking forward to making longer films of my own in the future.

RF: Describe your next project.

RT: Last month I met a girl called April. She’s 16, from Southend and seriously straight-talking! She also has a really interesting past. I made a short film with her as part of a 3-day film challenge organised by Kino London and, at the next possible opportunity, will be making a longer film with her.

RF: What excites you about having your film at Rooftop?

RT: I feel really privileged that Sid talked to me about his past. The fact that people attending ‘Rooftop’, half a world away, can hear his story is really exciting for me. And for Sid, it’s further proof that he should leave Hackney for Hollywood!

A Grumpy Old Man” screened as a part of the Rooftop Films “Home Movies” program of short films. See more like it at “New York Non-Fiction,” this Friday, June 18th, and “Doomed Love and the Devilles” on Friday, August 6th.


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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.


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