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by Lela Scott MacNeil
June 11th, 2010

On June 18th, the Rooftop Films “New York Non-Fiction” program will feature a series of short documentaries that celebrate the beauty and struggle that defines life in this city of cities. One of these is Prince/William, which starts out as a seemingly simple story of two neighbors claiming ownership of a puppy. But through a conversation between two strangers in South Slope, director Keith Miller evolves the film into an subtle and graceful exploration of the complex nature of race and class in the changing strata of New York neighborhoods.

Rooftop films spoke with Keith about his real-life experience with Abu, his neighbor, and his dog, named William or Prince, depending on who you ask.

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

Keith Miller: In late summer of last year I found a four month old puppy in front of an abandoned house on my street in South Slope (Greenwood Heights aka SoSlo). He followed me as I walked away wondering what to do. The next day I put up signs and asked the neighbors if they knew of anyone who had lost a pit bull puppy.  None had heard anything or knew anything but all assured me that if it was pit bull pup, surely someone had just tossed it out of a passing car since there was so much over breeding. A few days later, after vet visits and whatever, I decided to keep him. Over the next two months I fell in love with him (William). Then one night at around 11 Abu (unknown to me then) came up and told me it was his dog. He had been living in the ‘abandoned house’: it had been rented to him from the owners despite being gutted. The conversation lasted an hour and a half. The movie is based directly on that conversation.

RF: Why did you decide to make a movie about that conversation?

KM: That night after I left the conversation I was pretty upset: it was a case where either solution was not a good one. But the situation- during the conversation- I felt that there was lot of challenging stuff going on and that if I wanted to act on my politics, talking it through was the only thing to do. So many of the details – putting up signs or not, knocking on doors or not, thinking that if you lose something you look for it – all reflected a lot of issues but at the same time it was all about  two men’s love of a puppy. The next morning I asked Abu if he would be interested. We talked for another hour and a half.

RF: What is your relationship with Abu like now?

KM: We are friendly and tried to work together once already but there was an arrest that got in the way. I hope that we can work something out within the next two months.

RF: The film handles some pretty nuanced issues of race, class and inner city cultural differences. What was it like working on the script and the direction to get at these themes?

KM: While much of the dialogue came from the interaction that night, most of the movie came from conversations with Abu after the fact. I would say that one of the most challenging and rewarding things about the film for me (and maybe Abu) were our discussions.

RF: Your film is screening as part of Rooftop’s annual “New York Non Fiction” program. In what ways do you think your film is uniquely New York?

KM: Despite the myths of post-whatever, race and class differences are so concrete here. More than in most other places I have seen. You can see it in this film as much as you can in the reactions I see to it.

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

KM: I am also a professor at NYU’s Gallatin School, Curator of the Gallatin Galleries and a painter. (see the paintings!: www.keith-miller.com)

RF: Tell us about your next project.

KM: I am currently working on the next short with Abu. I am also finishing a 30 minute piece called, “This is not a home (Sketches),” a non-linear documentary that looks at Venice, Italy as a site of immigration and history, where the fantasy of tourism is embedded within the fabric of history and tradition as well as the machinations and realities of globalization. The sections are made up of interviews, observations, news clips and youtube posts.

I am also reworking two scripts.

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

KM: The public nature of the screenings and the laid back feel have the exact atmosphere I aspire to: open, popular and populist, and high quality with challenging content. I LOVE ROOFTOP!

See “Prince/William” and more “New York Non-Fictions” on Friday, June 18th at the Open Road Rooftop on the Lower East Side.

Tickets and more information here.

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One Response to “Filmmaker Interview: “Prince/William””

  1. [...] was Prince/William because he had named him Prince and I had named him William.  That played at Rooftop Films in the summer 2010.  I had been working towards a kind of filmmaking that disregarded the line [...]

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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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