The Girl Next Door: Celine Danhier

Armed with film equipment, plenty of ideas, and a city full of stories that have been largely untold, Celine Danhier aims to tell a tale of film's lost movement, No Wave. Her new independent documentary, "Blank City," is now in theaters in NYC, and takes us through one of the most influential and important, but also forgotten movements, originating in the Lower East Side. The France-born filmmaker sat down with us to spill the beans on her projects, inspirations, and why she's found a new home in the Big Apple.
Name: Celine Danhier
Occupation: Director of BLANK CITY
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I live in: NYC
Tell us about what you do and how you got into it?
"I just finished my first documentary, BLANK CITY, about the rise of underground film in Downtown New York City in the late 1970s through the mid-'80s. BLANK CITY is a love letter to a period in New York history, when a motley crew of artists decided to use the deserted, bombed-out Lower East Side landscape to craft daring works that profoundly influenced the evolution of Independent Film as we know it today. They were total renegades!
"While I was living in France, I was very into film, and I was exploring different genres: Film Noir, Horror, New Wave, but hadn't yet heard of No Wave. I was aware of the films of Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, and Susan Seidelman (who directed Desperately Seeking Susan), and saw Downtown 81 (produced by Maripol—quite famous for being Madonna’s stylist in the '80s), but I didn't know that these films were part of a larger movement. For a while, I assumed my ignorance was due to living in Paris—that everyone in New York would have heard about No Wave film, and the movement that followed it, the Cinema of Trangression. During my first year of living in the U.S., it became clear that this wasn't the case. These films were virtually lost gems, some of which hadn't been screened in 25 years.
"They'd never before been celebrated or even chronicled as a historical movement. It was a real shame—these films launched the careers of some of my favorite independent auteurs like Jarmusch and Buscemi, who've created a real alternative to Hollywood filmmaking. These films also featured a cast of amazing Downtown icons of the era—Debbie Harry, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, John Lurie, James Chance, Lydia Lunch, Ann Magnuson, Patti Astor, the list goes on...
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"So, with the producers Aviva Wishnow and Vanessa Roworth, who also edited the film, I started to do some research, track down the people from the film and punk scene of the time, and began shooting...We really wanted to capture the idiosyncratic, explosive energy of the No Wave & Cinema of Transgression movements. And I think we did a pretty good."
What are your favorite parts of your work?
"Being able to meet all of these great artists, people who have inspired me, and to be able to connect with them about a very exciting period in their lives. I'm so lucky, because I interviewed more than 40 people—virtually everyone I previously mentioned along with John Waters, Thurston Moore, Richard Kern, Amos Poe, James Nares, Eric Mitchell, Bette Gordon, Beth B, and Lizzie Borden."
How does NYC inspire you?
"I've always felt drawn to New York, so I moved here almost five years ago. New York is an incredible place—very creative and inspiring, daring but difficult. It's still very cinematic, and I love the feeling that everything is possible."
Describe your daily uniform...
"I am very into pants—wide-leg, sometimes slouchy, with a '70s feel. So, my uniform is essentially long and loose pants, and my favorite jacket usually in a neutral or dark hue. I'm not so into the bright colors!"
Would you/could you live anywhere else?
"I grew up in Nantes, in the west of France, and lived in Paris for a while. But I love it here. And yes, I could live somewhere else—I'm used to living across the ocean from friends & family. It's changed since the days of BLANK CITY—so long as I have my laptop and wireless, I can always feel connected!"
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Last meal in NYC, where and what?
"Duck at the Hudson Clearwater. My friends John and Mark opened this place a few months ago, and I am just addicted to the duck and the tarte tatin."
What's the weirdest/craziest/most awesome thing you've ever seen or found on the street?
"One day, when I was living in the East Village, the school on 7th Street threw away all their old furniture…It was amazing—kids' desks from the '70s outside on the pavement! A few hours later, in front of my building, I found this futuristic chair, in white leather...a design-lover's dream day!"
What of your work do we have to look forward to?
"BLANK CITY is playing right now at IFC Center in New York City. It will then have a rolling release in LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, DC, and 25 other cities across the U.S. during May and June, before opening in Europe in the fall."
If someone recognizes you on the street, what would you like them to say?
"That they were inspired by my film, that it made them want be creative and just do something! I hope people walk away from BLANK CITY inspired by the energy, artistry, and DIY approach of the era. And wanting to see the films we profiled, they really are quite extraordinary."
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