alina skrzeszewska –
songs from the nickel
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Alina Skrzeszewska created a colorful, sad and thoughtful film about the shadow sides of downtown Los Angeles, not without showing strains of hope. And there is music, songs by the protagonists starring in the film.
The Nickel, the Eastern part of downtown used to be an isolated island in the urban grid of L.A.: historic but sordid former grand hotels; the number of homeless people surpasses the number of inhabitants multiple times; a network of christian missions and charity organisations are entangled in what is called the Skid Row; from 10 pm through 6:30 am you are allowed to sleep in the street (but then you have to move); there is a lack of over 12,000 beds for homeless shelter; on the other hand, a massive police presence and the reign of crack makes life in the street like a trip to hell. In this strange otherworldly urban zone, the old hotels seem to be islands in the stormy waters, and they are the cheapest places to live in town. Here, the artist Skrzeszewska rented a room for over one and half a year while shooting for her film. Those who live here, and whom we get to know in the film, have at least some kind of steady income, a job in the hotel, a veteran pension, or social welfare for the disabled. They were able to leave the state of homelessness or the circle of jail and drugs.
Thus, for Alina the hotels are a place of reflection, a retreat from the “war in the street” as Alina calls it. “In the street there is never time for thoughtfulness.” Therefore, she uses these odd spaces of retreat that the hotels are as spaces of reflection — and possibly projection — to discuss life and the society that creates those biographies missing any hope. The artist’s conditions for a talk in front of the camera was openness to have an earnest conversation. We see very little “false” acting in front of the camera, maybe because the artist does all the recording on her own, and it is this sincerity of a “one to one” talk and Alina’s honest interest in the story of her counterpart that makes her bridge the gap: A young European woman who studies at CalArts and the finally settled tramps. Some of them tell stories of their life, they never told before. We get to know there are many reasons to strand at the hotels of the Nickel. Some were dropped out by the society that fits only for the fittest, and they lost everything they had in the past. Others decided not to “play their game.” All of them still seem to be untouched by the epidemic that now spreads for 2 decades: crack.
In such a way, Alina Skrzeszewska also shows to us the poetry and wisdom of the underprivileged, all of which recorded by a camera that was inspired by Edward Hopper and the reading of Charles Bukowski, as Alina admitted to herself after she had finished the film. The positive notions of the film however derive from the examples of anarchistic renderings of their interests, like the illegal music studio in the hotel’s basement. It’s that very American idea of the self-made man that is still valid, and the roots of American pop culture based in the will of the poorest men to survive in dignity that are still showing, here.
A. Skrzeszewska, who was born in Wroclaw in Poland, and who lives and works somewhere in between Berlin, Los Angeles and Vienna, will be present at the screening at Z-Bar and will be available for Q&A.
In addition, Alina will present the short film “Notes from the Fields”, 10 mins, showing a day’s cycle on the crossing of 5th St. and Los Angeles St. in The Nickels.
Curated by Klaus W. Eisenlohr
More infos, German text and film stills: