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New Screen TV Launches with H-Town at DMAC
By Constantin Traian Preda
It's another humid Friday evening in Downtown Orlando and the usual horde of club hoppers and frat boys flood Orange Avenue. Traffic has already turned to gridlock and the din of horns and city noise resonates everywhere.
Yet, a few blocks away, on the corner of Pine and Magnolia, a distinctive event is taking place at the Downtown Media Arts Center: the official launch of New Screen Television with the Orlando premiere of documentary producer/director Josh Goldbloom's Heroin Town. It's an intimate event with a full audience, hor'derves, beer, wine, conversation, and cinema.
"Heroin Town is a multi layered film," Goldbloom says in an interview on the stoop outside of the DMAC art gallery. "It's really about a town fighting back against its image which was done wrong by the national media."
In the feature length documentary, Goldbloom chronicles the small town of Willimantic, Connecticut after seeing an unflattering portrayal of the town and its residents by Dan Rather on 60 Minutes II.
According to the June 11, 2003 report, "Willimantic is a drug-infested small town, with a population of 15,000-16,000 people, in the middle of Connecticut. It's in the middle, some say, of nowhere – unless you want to buy or sell drugs."
Intrigued by the story, Goldbloom decided to head to Willimantic from his home in Philadelphia and shoot a documentary about the heart of Willimantic's supposed heroin problems – The Hotel Hooker, a dilapidated and grimy hotel-turned-apartment building right in the middle of Willimantic's downtown district.
The Hotel Hooker gets its "seedy-sounding" name not because of professional harlots residing in its rooms, but from its original owner, Seth Chauncey Hooker who opened the once prestigious hotel in 1887.
"This wasn't the film that I originally wanted to make," Goldbloom says in response to a question from one of the DMAC audience members. "I wanted to slam this hotel, because when I saw 60 Minutes, I couldn't believe this place existed. So I went in there just to further along the 60 Minutes story."
Godlbloom discovered a much different hotel than what had been portrayed on 60 Minutes II. He discovered a hotel that, although had some problems with drugs, was made up mostly of lower income residents that were residing at the hotel because they simply couldn't afford to live anywhere else.
Some of the residents include Pat, a "fairly sociable" former heroin addict turned methadone user who is also a drag queen eerily resembling David Lee Roth and Chick, a numb chuck wielding pseudo-martial arts novice with a mullet who likes to bang his numb chucks against hubcaps mounted on his bedroom walls.
Heroin Town tries to show that city officials are actually attempting to close down the hotel simply because it's an eye sore and doesn't fit in with the town's current desire for development and improvement.
On that note, most people would agree with the city officials. However, Fred Shapiro, a Jewish Pastor in the documentary makes a good point about Willimantic and The Hotel Hooker. He comments that sometimes you have to "learn to love the dandelions."
Before he shot Heroin Town, Goldbloom had limited experience with shooting anything, but still set out in late June 2003 to produce the documentary using the Panasonic DVX 100 24P camera and absolutely no additional crew.
"I learned as I shot," Goldbloom admits. "It's funny to watch the footage that I shot in the beginning compared to like 9 months after. I grew as a filmmaker. It's really about hands on – that's the only way to learn."
Heroin Town illustrates many first time mistakes that most first time documentary directors make. Several interviews are soft focused, most of the material repeats the same point (that the media only showed one side – the bad side – and that the town wants to voice their dissent), and the story lacks a strong arc.
However, the success of Heroin Town isn't necessarily in the movie itself. The success is really in the experience of Goldbloom and his desire to make a feature length documentary with few resources. He accomplished that and anyone who has set out to make any feature length project with little money and no crew knows that it is virtually impossible.
"It's a nice little film that really gets into the lives of a couple of people," Goldbloom humbly discloses.
Due to Goldbloom's perseverance, the movie has showcased in Nashville, Memphis, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles before making its Orlando premiere.
Additionally it has also garnered the Best First Feature Documentary Award at the 2004 Silver Lake Film Festival and has received interest from HBO and Showtime.
Most of Heroin Town's screenings have and will continue to take place in art house cinemas through out the country which is why the Downtown Media Arts Center was a perfect fit for the screening and the launch of New Screen TV, a new network broadcast on WRCF-TV Channel 29 Winter Park/Orlando. According to www.newscreen.tv, the network "has been designed to open a portal – and be a venue – for independent films and videos of all genres, and all running times."
Mark Astrom, president and creative director of NSTV, discovered Heroin Town after seeing an ad posted by Goldbloom in the classified section of Indie Wire. The ad gave a brief synopsis of the documentary and was in search of anyone interested in seeing the movie.
"New Screen Television here in Orlando stuck with me from day one," Goldbloom proudly states. "Mark Astrom got me when I thought my movie sucked. It was probably close to like 3 hours. He saw something in the movie that I didn't even see."
Now cut down to 82 minutes, Goldbloom's documentary is going to survive in the public eye because of places like DMAC and networks like New Screen Television.
"It's all about these god damn venues man," Goldbloom passionately explains. "It's these small independent places that need to thrive because I always say it's where the real art is."
Taking nearly two years to complete, Heroin Town is only the beginning for Goldbloom. While continuing to screen and promote his documentary, he is also thinking about his next project, a horror movie being written under the working title The Back Yard.
Goldbloom describes it as "From Dusk Till Dawn meets 8MM. It's perverse, it's sick, and it's fun."
Official Website: www.herointownmovie.com
View pics from the event.
Constantin Traian Preda is a freelance writer and TV producer in Orlando, Florida. He produces and story edits programs for MTV and VH1 and he is the producer, director, and creator of Cinema Café on Vision TV. He is also the host and producer of "Flicks on Fairbanks", a monthly indie film/video showcase at Austin Coffee and Film. Check him out at www.constantinpreda.com