Filmmaker Jennifer Callahan has become the enthusiastic chronicler of Rockaway, the peninsula in the New York City borough of Queens located on the South Shore of Long Island. First she directed “The Bungalows of Rockaway” (2010), a documentary ode to the fabled area with its bungalows and beaches that had seen better days but still had the allure of its location and history. Then came Sandy, the October, 2012 storm that devastated much of the area. Recognizing a good story beckoning to be told, Callahan returned to make a sequel, “Everything is Different Now: Rockaway After the Storm.”
Both films were broadcast by Thirteen/WNET last October, and now Callahan reports that the prestigious company Kino Lorber has acquired distribution of the appealing and informative pair of films.
The follow-up emerges as a celebration of how people in an area can cooperate to help recover from the damage done to their community. In a sense, it can be a model for others stricken by disaster. I knew that Sandy caused plenty of destruction, and like others, I had watched some television clips. But until I saw “Everything is Different Now: Rockaway After the Storm” I had no idea of just how badly the area had been hit, especially with respect to the shattered homes, as well as to the beachfront in general.
I had previously enjoyed Callahan’s affectionate film visit to the locale that had attracted ordinary folk and notables especially during the first half of the last century. The film, narrated by actress Estelle Parsons, had great clips reflecting heyday and decline, in total adding to our appreciation of what has existed for New Yorkers.
In the new film, with comments by scientist Michael Oppenheimer that help put the portrait in context, we see shots of the destruction, but also the spirit of re-building. As Callahan and co-producer Sarah Geller worked on what was expected to be a shorter film, the reality took hold. Callahan decided to keep expanding to cover what she saw as important. She enlisted her French friend Helene Attali, who lives in Paris, to complete the editing. Musicians from the band Babe the Blue Ox, provided the score. Gordon Chou, who had worked on the first Rockaway film, was the cinematographer.
Callahan has much to say about the experience. “Our first shoot day,” she recounts, “was mid-July, 2013, a beautiful sunny summer day, with a big blue sky, and our first stop was a bungalow court party n Beach 108th Street. Going to the beach beforehand was a revelation—the beach was packed! It had a lighthearted happy feel. That summer beach joy was evident at the bungalow court party and everywhere we went that first day. Much of the boardwalk was mangled, if not gone; devastation was still evident, although most of the debris had been removed; and it seemed the beach was more popular than ever. The popularity of that beach and all the Rockaway beaches affected me deeply. It was like, we had disaster, and then we had love.”
Callahan has another film in the pipeline. For many years she has been working on a documentary called “Barely Anywhere,” which is currently in the editing process. As she describes the project to which she has been passionately committed:
“It is about a group of New York City teenagers deemed ‘behaviorally unmanageable’ by every single authority in their lives and an unusual residential facility in the city that houses them, provides a conduit for New York City teachers to come and teach them and attempts to perform a positive intervention in their lives. “
Focusing on Rockaway proved to be a captivating double achievement, and the accolades for the two films will undoubtedly help bring attention to “Barely Anywhere.” Callahan has already demonstrated that she is a first-rate, skillful filmmaker with an inquiring mind, sharp perception and a social conscience. Posted April 3, 2016.