One-on-One Q&A with Dawn Scibilia and Alan Cooke, "Home"
Alan Cooke – Producer, Writer, Narrator
Over the weekend, I got a pleasant surprise when Alan Cooke sent me an instant chat message from Ireland on Facebook. He asked me if I had seen the documentary he produced, wrote, and narrated called Home. It was a film that I was familiar with, but had not yet had the opportunity to see, so I asked him if he could send me a screener. He put me in touch with the film’s director Dawn Scibilia. We spoke on the phone, and met the next rainy day outside of BAM where Dawn gave me the DVD. (I had just come from Sujewa’s documentary shoot where he interviewed Tambay Obenson nearby in Brooklyn.) I immediately took the DVD home with me to watch. It is a beautifully shot and well-told story of Alan’s experience coming from Ireland to live in New York City, as well as other stories told by people who call New York home, whether they came here as immigrants or were born and raised here. Some familiar faces include Liam Neeson, Susan Sarandon, Woody Allen, Mike Meyers, Frank and Malachy McCourt, and more. The film resonated with me very well. I don’t come from too far away, Western New York State, but I can certainly relate as New York has become my home. I wanted to find out more about the making of Home, so I did a One-on-One (or Two) Q&A with Dawn and Alan. They are currently seeking distribution opportunities here in the U.S.
In the mean time, here are a few ways in which you can see Home before then—Home will air on Thirteen/WNET New York this Thursday, July 3 at 10pm, and to purchase a DVD of Home, visit http://homethemovie.com/.
TFPN: Who came to who first to propose making the film? Dawn, did you already have the topic in mind, or did Alan pitch it to you? How did it all come about?
Scibilia: In 2000, I was toying with the idea of a documentary about how New York had changed in recent years. I had even shot some footage, mainly streetscapes, buildings and parts of the city I wanted to remember as they were. After 9/11, I abandoned the idea for obvious reasons. In 2004, I met actor Alan Cooke who was interested in doing a one man show about his experiences in New York as a recent Irish Immigrant. We got to talking and decided to merge our ideas and our talents.
Cooke: Dawn was documenting the city visually before I met her and I was writing fragments about my own life as a newly arrived immigrant. I was renting an apt for my landlord and Dawn was going to take it, we got chatting and had an interest in the changes and effects of New York and on my own transformation being away from home. We went out the next day with a MiniDV camera and began a journey of capturing the city in its essence of energy, in the visual and poetical sense. As we moved deeper into the piece we discovered a language that existed on the city streets and found ourselves with a work that was growing organically with no preconceived plan, just following our hearts and passions and the calling of the streets of New York.
Scibilia: We thought it would be interesting to get well known people who would open up to us and reflect on the city just as we were doing. And we believed we could pull it off. We each came up with a list of people who had an interesting relationship with the city and would want to share it with us because of their love of the city, people who were inspired by the city and understood its history. We wanted a mix of Irish immigrants like Liam Neeson and native New Yorkers like Susan Sarandon and Pete Hamill, or an interesting mix of both as in (Frank and Malachy) McCourt who were born in Brooklyn, went back to Ireland and then decided to return to New York. After unsuccessful attempts at getting past agents and managers, we found ways of meeting them and pitching them in person. Some face to face meetings were pure accidents. Only in New York!
Cooke: We came upon them in situations like bars and theatres and movie premieres. I met Liam Neeson in Central Park, by an eight million to one chance! We got them because we had passion and an original idea and they saw in our eyes a desire to capture something honest, poetic and real.
Scibilia: We watched Wings of Desire and Baraka for its poetry and the great New York: A Documentary Film by Rick Burns which was a great way to quickly delve into the city’s history and some of its most devoted citizens.
Cooke: I personally took my influence from the street culture of New York and from other poetic films like Wings of Desire, Joyce’s Ulysses, Kerouac, dreamers and notions of myth and the human journey. I love films that involve a single characters transformation for I feel that is what happened to me. Our film Home is a reflection of all of these inspirations layered into the film.
TFPN: What message would you like your film to deliver?
Scibilia: It wasn't our intention to send a message or answer questions, but if I had to give you an answer I guess it would be, life itself is a journey. And if you should find yourself in New York, recognize and appreciate its importance to your journey and all who came before you.
Cooke: It has been seen by maybe one million people so far in festivals and on TV. We have had many wonderful reactions, I want the film to move people and show that all of our journeys have meaning and New York. Moments can change you forever. The film delivers a message of hope that New York still has a spiritual power and you can be fully realized on many different levels if you choose to call it HOME.
TFPN: (To Cooke) Was your narration in the film based on any previous writings you've done, or was it written solely for the film?
Cooke: The narration was based on my experiences and some writing I was working on. I just expanded it as I went along. As Dawn created pieces of film, I would write around them and vice verse. It was a very organic response in how the film was created. Being an actor helped because it meant I was able to create some truth in my voice and it was also part of how I shaped the words, looking for the realness in what I was trying to say. I learned a huge amount from the process and the audiences so far have reacted very strongly to my narration. They have said it’s like I’m bringing them on a journey…a personal journey on the streets.
TFPN: What has been the reaction from people who have seen the film, particularly from immigrants?
Scibilia: There’s a strong identification with the film. They've all made a point of telling me that they felt as though they had just seen themselves on the screen. So I'm happy to know I've done my job as a director. For me personally, the biggest compliment of all is when a New Yorker tells me that it completely captured the city for them, because that means we satisfied the most jaded audience members perhaps in the world! And since this is my home town, it meant a lot.
Cooke: Some have been moved to tears. I believe we have caught the essence of the immigrant’s journey in New York, the strife, the self-belief, the challenges and the moments of real transformation. People from London, New York, San Francisco, Australia…have all responded in saying how poetic and how beautiful the piece is…it’s very endearing.
TFPN: The film is being distributed in Ireland right now. How's that going? What has been the reaction from people there?
Cooke: We have our first theatrical release in Ireland. I’m very excited. We have shown it on TV here and in some small one-off screenings. People have been very moved by my story. I am brining so much back home to them.
Scibilia: I'm polishing a screenplay I've just completed and hope to direct – a film noir set in NYC. I'm hoping to take it to the IFP Market this September.
Cooke: I’m half way through a book about New York, an extension of the film and a more personal and expressionistic look at a series of moments I have had in the city. I hope maybe to make a film about my journey in Ireland sometime soon, and I am trying to audition again for the stage. That is my first love as a professional stage actor, but life can throw some funny roads at you!