61 mins: 4k digital film on DCP
filmed on location in Astoria, Queens, NYC.
On a street corner in Queens, New York, an elderly, white-haired woman hovers, apparently waiting or looking for something – then starts approaching passersby. Miked up close, but viewed – surveillance-style – from distant rooftops, she asks them philosophical questions about turning points in their lives, sometimes eliciting candidly revealing answers from people who seemingly need to talk. She’s also seen up close at street level, viewed by a shaky nearby camera. And intermittently we hear the affectless voiceover of an English male reading an account of a prison spell. What exactly are we seeing? A documentary of sorts? A fiction stripped of its expected signposts? The woman is real-life casting director Martha Wollner, but the film never makes it clear what her mission is, what she hopes to learn, and what her relation is to the distant speaker (who may also be the distant observer). Echoing Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION, as well as works by Phillip Warnell’s fellow British experimental directors John Smith and Chris Petit, this is an enigmatic, elusive piece. Yet, as the title suggests, those moments when Wollner connects with the interiority of perfect strangers makes this an alluringly, unexpectedly compassionate guerrilla foray into urban experience.
Jonathan Romney, Viennale
“Intimate Distances is uncannily prescient in its close attention to the social organisation of urban space, and also acutely attuned to the privileges of class and colour that tend to govern interactions between strangers in such spaces.” Maeve Connolly
Intimate Distances is screening in competition at FIC Valdivia, Chile; Open City Docs, London; Black Canvas, Mexico; and Viennale Vienna in 2020
The film was awarded the prize for best edited film (Juan Soto) in the New Horizons competition at Black Canvas film festival, Mexico City in 2020.
“Coming at a time of greater isolation than the modern world has known, INTIMATE DISTANCES feels like the panacea we needed. Casting director Martha Wollner searches for an actor for a feature film, and in doing so she takes to the streets of New York. What follows is a series of interactions between strangers, both fearful and compassionate, as the intimate direction of Phillip Warnell brings us up close with the kind of human connection we are currently unable to reach.”
“Did Martha finally cast someone? The question should not be taken as rhetoric, for a crime has titillated our curiosity throughout the film. An indirect crime, actually, because we could only project the imagination of a crime on the future film where the casted person would embody the criminal. Moreover, we also project the “criminality” on the passers-by in our accompanying Martha in her job. Insofar as the apparent concentration of Intimate Distances is on the process of casting instead of the final choice in casting, we will focus on our projection of criminality on people more than on the effective aptitude the persons could have in expressing criminality. In this way, we are not only aware of being the cinema-makers but also of being the makers of criminals”.
Film Explorer, Switzerland
Martha Wollner, legendary casting director (best known for her work with Albert Maysles), roams the streets of New York in search of an actor to play the role of a criminal in a fictional film. In a world in which it is no longer customary to interact in the public space, she dares to talk face to face to strangers. There are those who flee and those who fall into the arms of Martha, who has turned this practice into a form of life in which human encounters, sociological analysis and artistic work are all intertwined. Simultaneously, we hear the voice of a former prisoner recounting the crime that inspired the film. Reality and fantasy then come together like necessary doubles. The camera, set up at a certain distance from the bodies, gives us an image reminiscent of that of surveillance systems, whereas the sound proximity of the conversations invites us to plunge into a framework of unexpected confidentiality. Intimate Distances challenges our definition and understanding of distance, as well as our relationship with urban space, and reveals a growing intimacy between strangers.
Elena López Riera
Maeve Connolly (english)
Filmmaker Magazine (english)
Roger Koza (spanish)
Cine & Literature (spanish)
Microspia (blog) (spanish)
Marcela Gamberini (spanish)
World premiere at Visions du Reel, Switzerland
Valdivia, Chile latin american premiere
Screening in competition at Open City Docs, London
Black Canvas, Mexico City
Linea D’Ombra, Italy
DocBsas, Argentina (part of a retrospective)
made with the participation of:
Laura Coxson (co-producer)
Michelle Agnes Magalhaes