Since its inception in 1997, Rooftop Films has become the cornerstone of the grassroots film industry in New York. This non-profit organization gives indie filmmakers well needed exposure while providing access to some of North America’s most obscure titles.
It was a stormy Friday evening when I trekked down to the Lower East Side to check out the NY premiere of Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. This campy, sci-fi themed, romantic comedy was co-presented by NewFest (The New York LGBT Film Festival) in celebration of Gay Pride Weekend. This was my first experience with Rooftop Films and I must admit I was impressed. For the low price of $10 patrons enjoyed a live performance by punk rock band The Suzan, a film screening complete with Q&A session, followed by an after party with FREE BEER!
But let’s start at the beginning. Codependent Lesbian… yada yada was screened at Open Road Rooftop, above the New Design High School at 350 Grand Street. Cloudy skies did nothing to deter the throngs of people that came to support filmmaker Madeleine Olnek’s feature length debut. Still, the organizers relocated the show to the school’s sizable indoor theatre just in case.
At the end of their performance, Mark Rosenberg (Founder of Rooftop Films) delivered the exciting news that the roof was now open! With whoops of triumph and cheerful expletives the crowd ascended to the top floor.
Be warned: those stairs are no joke! Audience members were still struggling to catch their breath even as they took their seats. The chilly night air also compounded my discomfort, but in the end it was all worth it. The graffiti riddled rooftop created an atmosphere of romance and artistic freedom that enhanced the experience tenfold. After a brief introduction, the lights dimmed and credits rolled. I waited with bated breath to see if Olnek’s b-movie would live up to the hype. It did. For the most part…
As a Columbia University grad and former AIDS activist, Olnek believes in using comedy to educate as well as entertain. That said, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same is by no means a feminist manifesto. It is a love story, plain and simple; the tale of extraterrestrial lesbians banished to Earth to rid themselves of the pesky emotion that clouds up the atmosphere on their home planet: love.
They say true originality no longer exists, but this film comes damn close! Its ridiculous concept and deliciously offbeat characters are truly the work of comic genius. The performances are also fantastic! Lisa Haas leads the ensemble cast as Jane, a shy (human) store clerk with zero dating skills. Her awkward yet endearing romance with the stone-faced alien Zoinx (Susan Ziegler) is the main focus of the film. Zoinx’s exiled counterparts include the “sexually generous” Zylar (Jackie Monahan) and codependent Barr (Cynthia Kaplan). These quirky refugees scour the New York dating scene in search of heartbreak while under the constant surveillance of ominous “men in black”.
But CLSASS is more than just cunnilingus jokes and awkward lesbian shower scenes. It taps into an emotional core that truly resonates with its audience. As the characters experience pitfalls in their various relationships, we sympathize with their feelings of despair and loneliness. We also come to understand one major truth about love: the more alone you are in your feelings the larger they become. The underlying theme of discrimination also serves as a subtle reminder of contemporary biases against the gay community. But all this should not be over-analyzed. Far more important are the hardcore issues interplanetary global warning and the illegal immigration (of aliens) to earth.
CLSASS is no directorial masterpiece but Olnek’s modest approach provides a charming grassroots flair. The narrative unfolds in the bare minimum of shots as she relies on skillful editing and performance to articulate important beats. Its black and white cinematography and crappy, home-made visual effects are also a bold choice. It not only mirrors the sci-fi b-movies of the fifties, but also draws a focus on story rather than artifice. Even so, the films low production values may still work to its disadvantage. A widespread distribution deal is unlikely as other demographics may not be as accepting of Olnek’s artistic license.
Olynek’s awkward, overlapping dialogue works beautifully for the majority of the film, but the long, arbitrary conversations did become tiresome. The government agents (Dennis Davis and Alex Karpovsky) provide comic relief, but their dialogue isn’t always clever enough to matter. Their self-indulgent rants also created an unfortunate mumblecore aesthetic that slowed the film’s pace and did nothing to enhance the plot.
Despite these relatively minor flaws, the film was VERY well received. As the credits rolled news spread that the Gay Marriage Bill passed and the audience exploded in cheers of delight! Olnek was clearly filled with euphoria as she took the stage for the Q&A session.
As it turns out, the details of the production were just as interesting as the film itself. A painful 15 day shooting schedule was complicated by a virtually non-existent budget, no permits and locations that remained open to customers during shooting. This was clearly a passion project for an extremely hardworking crew and their efforts are to be commended! Help these filmmakers obtain international distribution by contributing to their Kickstarter Campaign!
Rooftop Film’s Summer Screening Series continues through August 20th. Check their website for their full schedule and ticket/location information about individual screenings.
SOA (Film) ’14
Arts Initiative Student Associate