Crown Heights Documentary

Gabe’s fantastic class ended today with presentation of the final videos. I, Eunjee and Esther worked on a short documentary that explores Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, NYC. The assignment went on for last two weeks and I learnt many new things including technical skills pertaining to video and sound, as well as religious beliefs, values, and some background of the Hasidic community.

Hasidism is a branch of orthodox Jewish faith. The last spiritual leader (Rabbi) was in this neighborhood and that is the reason why most people of Crown Heights community moved and chose to stay there. To me it was a wonderful experience to approach these people, listen to their stories, and attend the festival of Sukkoth that ended with a cheerful music performance and dance.

From the perspective of video and sound I learned a lot of new skills and software settings in Adobe Premiere Pro and Logic Pro X. I am sure these lifehacks will come to rescue while documenting my further projects at ITP!


Crown Heights Documentary

Prompt: Make a 3-4 minute documentary on a specific street intersection in New York. This documentary can be about the intersection itself or about a character or group of characters that work or live at this intersection.

I started working on this assignment with Esther and EunJee, and the initial discussion was around different possibilities. We discussed about two neighborhoods- little India and Crown Heights- and finalized on shooting a documentary on Crown Heights as this neighborhood prepares for the upcoming festival of Sukkot. We chalked out a plan to shoot the film and worked on a few initial steps:

How to Make a Documentary Film

1. Writing and Developing an Idea

  • Find a topic that is engaging/that you care
  • Give your film a purpose
  • Research your topic
  • Write an outline

2. Staff, Technique and Scheduling

  • Learn basic film making techniques
  • Get equipment
  • Organize, outline and schedule

3. Shooting Documentary

  • interview relevant people
  • Get live footage of relevant events
  • film establishing shots
  • “B-roll” – footage of important objects, process,
  • historical events-for voice over
  • Dramatic reaction

4. Assembling and sharing

  • Make a new outline for film
  • record a voice over if necessary
  • Think about background music/sound
  • Edit film


Writing and Developing an Idea

Find a topic that is engaging / that you care about

Film the cultural division/mix between Jewish  and non-Jewish community in Crown Heights.

Give your film a purpose

Explore the Hassidic community in Crown Heights before the holiday of Sukkot and the reaction of the other communities in the neighborhood to these customs. Try to develop and understanding of the interaction between the communities living in this area.


Initial Research

IMG_0570 IMG_0572 IMG_0571


Write an outline

  • Go to Crown Heights on Sunday morning to film the pre-holiday rush and speak to Hassidic locals about the neighborhood, their community, and the upcomming holiday.
  • Speak to other locals about their experiences living in this hassidic enclave.



The Story of Water

Danielle and I started working together on an assignment for the Video and Sound class. We planned to make an audio that narrates a story through sound, something that outlines a trajectory from start to end, and the next step was to decide what the story is going to be about. We thought of a number of different elements related to the urban life in New York City- sandwiches, coffee, and water.

The first round was pure hands-on exploration of the Zoom audio recorder. I made a few attempts to record sounds across the tourist places, parks, and in my kitchen when I cooked dinner, and the process was fun. Eventually we finalized on making an audioscape about journey of water in NYC from river to sewage and we decided to included most of the in-between stages such as industrial usage, consumption and waste water treatment. It was great to work with audio inputs from diverse parts of the city. The most difficult yet the most interesting part of the assignment was to edit audio clips using Logic Pro X. We struggled a lot but we also discovered some quite fascinating effects and settings that this software offers.

The journey starts with a peaceful drizzle and goes into exploring sounds of river before the rhythmic industrial tones initiate a touch of manmade landscape.

An Audio Walk in Central Park

The CommLab (Video and Sound) class assignment prompted me to go on an extraordinary soundwalk titled Her Long Black Hair by Janet Cardiff.

Central Park is one of the best places that I had planned to visit along with many other attractions around New York City. I visited the park a couple of times in last few weeks when a bunch of friends came to NYC, and it was always a peaceful and relaxing experience. Wednesday’s lone visit, however, made me experience an altogether new facet of the same landscape as I strolled around listening to a story. Well, multiple interlinked stories. Stories that augmented the nature of time and space as they spawned their own plot.

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It just rained and presented a new avatar of the space, with the past and the memories gone with the snow.

The audio started with a cheerful buzz right outside the park and covered a few objects like buildings, trees, and a statue. It established an honest sync between what I saw and what I listened to. It made me recollect at once that NYC has old buildings, trees, monuments and statues; some of them standing for more than a century. That I am standing in the middle of a gathering of artifacts that came into existence long before my generation. I had the same feeling again and again throughout the walk when the audio described how old the pavement and landscape is, and how uncanny the reality of rocks surfacing from the lawn is as they hide old, bloody secrets beneath the ground.


I had never looked the seemingly simple objects such as rocks and trees from this view. My perspective towards the objects around me was so skewed by this time that I had a strange sense of dread when I arrived near the statue of angel at the Bethesda fountain.

The stories not only gave a parallel dimension to space, but also subtly played around with time. “There are always so many layers in front of my eyes.” At first I thought she is now going to describe what’s happening here right now- the rainy atmosphere and the layers of drizzle, leaves, and tree trunks merging far into the horizon. Whereas after a bit of a pause she said “I saw a man pushing a woman into a car. I saw a boy running down the street. I saw a woman fall to the ground. How can I know what I’ve seen? …The rain has stopped.”

She reaches a point where she lets go the flow of thoughts she had about events that might have occurred. And this connected really well with the metaphor of subsiding rain. Everything just stopped.

I took the walk twice. It was much more interesting to do it the next time as I could observe some little mismatches in the two experiences. For example I did actually see a man reading a newspaper as she described him; and he wasn’t there the first time I walked down the same road. Same happened with a pet, a few kids and a bear in the zoo. When I was almost finished with the walk the second time, I realised that I have a class to attend and I started rushing towards the nearest subway. “Wait for me,” she said in a plain voice, and to me that was the best moment throughout the experience. It took me a while to even realise that I actually stopped for a moment.

In the beginning I was under an impression that the audio will walk me through the environment, the weather and the architectural elements in the park. In reality it engaged me so much into the stories of her experiences that I subconsciously believed that I am a part of the stories. I experienced how beautiful, cruel, passionate and mystic a space could be at the same time.

Thoughts on Originality and Plagiarism

I went through two interesting articles, The Ecstacy of Influence: A Plagiarism and Allergy to Originality, and they present detailed discussions on originality and plagiarism. Jonathan Lethem’s article talks in depth about a number of examples that seem to have appropriated text, audio, video, illustrations etc. from earlier works. It was fascinating to understand his model of influence that he applies to twentieth century art movements that were mostly based on juxtaposition of mediums. Although each of these movements (cubism, Dada, futurism etc.) presented a new take on creation and interpretation of art, these were still ‘based on’ the previous practices in some or the other form of rejection, modification or extreme amplification.

I think we are all programmed to contemplate, behave and create based on our own lived experiences and as such there is no escape from appropriation. Influence can certainly lead to a new dimension; however reaching a new dimension might not be possible without influence of one’s own or someone else’s works. (In this respect the Voynich Manuscript might stand as an original work as long as we are unable to decode it. And interestingly, how strongly influenced our attempts to decode this manuscript are!)

As I went on reading the article I started to think that his views are too cynical- what is the whole purpose of discarding virtually every creation as an attempt of plagiarism, if we can always see an artwork as an outcome of influence, and if we cannot create without influence? On similar lines strikes Drew Christie’s video when the patron ultimately decides to chuck it and asks for a Men in black III ticket. (Paradoxically, the creator claims the video to be original in being un-original!)

Hands-on with the Zoom Recorder

Day one of the video and sound CommLab was fun on many levels- we looked at different works based on sound, technicalities of the tools and lastly worked on the audio scavenger hunt exercise. Zoom recorder turns out to be a very useful device that lets you manage input modes and levels, provides real time audio feedback and records sounds with great details.

I teamed up with Chino and following are a few audios that we recorded:

Barking dogs

Door closing


A stranger telling us a deep dark secret!

Tap water