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by Sheila Maria Lobo
August 27th, 2011

So, my favorite New York experiences have usually been associated with Rooftop. I suppose part of the reason for this is that I’ve been on a limited budget. New York offers so many events and such an amazing nighlife scene, but it’s pretty hard to keep up when paying for everything using just a summer grant. So I’ve tried to take advantage of the fact that as a Rooftop intern, I can attend any Rooftop show, see numerous awesome films, and get free drinks at the after parties. Perhaps it’s also because I go to Bryn Mawr, a small women’s college outside Philadelphia, where I again can’t afford to do much, that I’ve learned to take pleasure in the ‘little things’, like a funny school tradition, an impromptu party, or an exhilarating dip in the school fountain. What’s important, I’ve found, is to keep myself open to the unexpected, because things unplanned are usually always for free, and are certainly the most memorable.

If I had to pick my absolute favorite moment, I would say that it wasn’t even a screening itself though. It occurred during the day before a screening. I was planning on attending the showing of ‘Convento‘, a fascinating documentary about an artistic family and their monastery home in Portugal. I would actually get to sit and watch it as I didn’t have to work tickets that night. I had watched the film twice already and written the interview questions for the director, but I was really looking forward to seeing it in true Rooftop context — its beautiful visuals being displayed on a big outdoor screen, its intense soundscapes mixed with honking cars and heavy wind. Upon waking up that morning however, it occurred to me that I had nothing to do to help pass the time until the evening — or rather I did, but couldn’t get myself motivated. I was just too excited. But, really, I did need to get started on my thesis research. I tried to scour my brain for the places where I might do my best reading and writing, the places where I’m most inspired and most productive. The only place that came to mind was the Rooftop office. As the screening would be taking place at the Old American Can Factory, the same location as the office, I figured that there would be people around to let me use the computers. So I walked over. None of the staff seemed too surprised to see me, even on a Saturday — perhaps it’s because I’m a bit of an overenthusiastic worker in general. No one even blinked an eye as I entered merrily, sat down at a desk, and prepared myself for a quiet, studious afternoon.

But, I had trouble concentrating. I kept overhearing Dan, Rooftop Programming Director, talking about how great ‘the sculptures’ were looking. How could I have forgotten? The director of ‘Convento’, Jarred Alterman, and the featured artist, Christiaan Zwanikken were going to be in attendance that evening, and Christiaan’s kinetic sculptures would be put on display. “Wait, are the sculptures already set up?” I finally asked Dan, resigning to put down my papers. Dan responded: “Well some of them are! There’s a few in the hallway, one in the elevator.” Ahh! This was exactly what I loved about hanging out at Rooftop! I just never knew when an amazing opportunity would just fall into my lap. I would be one of the first attendees to see those sculptures up close. “Do you think I can go take a look?” I asked, trying hard not to let my voice become too squeaky. “Yeah, sure,” Dan replied. So I grabbed my stuff and scurried outside.

I tried to snap pictures without looking too much like a ‘Can Factory tourist’, but that’s most likely ‘exactly’ how I appeared. Fox heads and rabbit skeletons and a dangling robot man had me entranced — so entranced in fact that I didn’t even notice three people watching me. Suddenly one of them spoke, and I jerked around. “So are you coming to the show tonight?” he asked, clearly thinking I really was a ‘tourist’. I was about to answer him when I realized that he looked oddly familiar. I’d seen him before — in a picture, maybe. “Oh my god, you’re Jarred Alterman!” I exclaimed. “Ha! You actually know who I am?” he replied ecstatically. I commenced throwing at him a million questions per minute, no longer caring about the distinguished squeak with which I was speaking. I paused to catch my breath and finally blurted: “Oh, is Christiaan here too?” Jarred responded: “Yeah, he’s sitting right in front of you.” I jumped back and turned my head. There he was — the amazing Christiaan Zwanikken in the flesh. He’d become thin from the time of the shooting, but his face was the same, and his hands were still rugged, sculptor’s hands. He was enjoying a slice of pizza slowly. I was completely dumbfounded. I shook his hand and asked in almost a panicked whisper: “Is the rabbit head here?” Christiaan replied serenely: “Yes, over by the door.” He turned it on for me as I stood awkwardly, trying to conceal my blushing face, thinking about how I hadn’t showered, that my hair was messy, that I’d said the wrong thing, etc. The film was being projected on the metal door behind the rabbit, and the rabbit’s mouth, once animated, seemed to move in unison with the eerie musical score. I was so distracted that I did not even notice someone else walk up behind me. It was the third man to whom I had not yet been introduced. “Hi, I’m Evan Meszaros, the producer of the film… ah wait for it… this is my cinematic debut.” I looked up at the screen. There was a man in shadow scaling a cliff. “That’s you?” I gasped. “Yup. My one appearance. Now you know,” he laughed. “Would you like some pizza?” he added cheerfully.

It doesn’t sound like much. But expecting to do some homework in the office, and then instead having several unexpected encounters was certainly memorable. It was the kind of experience that has really made this internship so fulfilling. I’m just now starting to realize that the makers of the films that I’m helping to promote, the incredible minds behind the films I can’t wait to see again and again — they are normal people! They’re as happy to meet me as I am them. They’re as happy to talk as I am to ask annoying questions. They’re sometimes gregarious, sometimes tenderly shy. And they have good taste in pizza, at that. These kinds of ‘little’ New York moments have been numerous (and free!), and have definitely turned this summer into one I’ll truly never forget.

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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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