On Discovering Rooftop

Joanna’s debut feature  i hate myself :) screened as part of the 2013 Summer Series. Watch the film free next Monday, December 30th at Videology.

“I know you like rooves,” I said, in my first email inviting someone to a Rooftop screening.

It was 2008, my first post-college summer, and I had just moved back home to Brooklyn where I was applying for jobs and reading mournful Murakami books in my parents’ attic. Even though I grew up in New York, all I’d ever really done to socialize was rent movies or see them in theaters. As my college friends began to move here that summer, I worried someone would discover this – people wanted me to take them to fun events, and there were only so many times I could suggest Landmark Sunshine and the knish place next door. I began to feel increasingly emasculated as a native New Yorker…

But things changed when I discovered Rooftop – a series that had screenings of great independent films with a beautiful view, live music, filmmaker Q&As, and after parties with free beer. In one night, I could satisfy my natural predilection for spending weekend nights watching movies, while also doing something appropriately social/cultural.

Impressing friends aside, Rooftop has also been such an important community for me to participate in as a filmmaker. This year, they premiered my personal documentary feature i hate myself :) In the film, I follow my first relationship over the course of a year – it’s usually an uncomfortable film for people to watch because the subject matter is so revealing. IMO, it has a healthy mix of self-referential angst and humorous nudity, but I think the film’s non-traditional elements made it tough for some festivals to program.

Rooftop was the first to accept i hate myself :) after it had been rejected by 35 festivals – they took a programming risk on a polarizing documentary by a first-time feature filmmaker, and for me that has made all the difference. After our premiere this summer, the film has since gained traction on the festival circuit, and Rooftop’s support has opened up new doors for our film in the coming year.

There are few places that truly champion new voices, and I am so grateful that an organization like Rooftop exists. This summer, I saw many films in the series that were different from anything I had ever seen before – films that shocked me, challenged my expectations, and kept me thinking about them for weeks after. The multiplicity of perspectives in Rooftop’s program encourages more active viewership, and I never come away from one of their films thinking about it in black and white terms.

That first Rooftop screening I invited my friend to was at the Open Road Rooftop and I remember climbing the six flights of high school stairs, increasingly out of breath, not knowing exactly where they would lead. I still feel that sense of possibility when I think about Rooftop, and I know it’s partly because the backdrop of each screening is the buildings, bridges and rivers of New York. I can’t believe my good fortune to have screened my film in a setting this beautiful, and am looking forward to next summer, where I’ll of course be again inviting friends to the series… ones who I know like rooves.