Filmmaker’s Flashback: Sirena’s Gallery, A(nother) Feature Grows in Brooklyn

By Christine Stoddard |

The journey of a first feature in ultra-low-budget land

As my boyfriend once teased me, most people spent quarantine making bread; I made a movie. He isn’t wrong, though it is what a cinephile like me would call a modest attempt. My first feature, an ultra-low-budget indie called Sirena’s Gallery, was born during the pandemic. It went from grad school musing to artist residency proposal to fever dream solo production. At some point, I went from rotting in my bed, fretfully watching live footage of an empty Times Square, to deciding I wasn’t going to give up on my dreams. Now Sirena’s Gallery is streaming on Tubi, Amazon, Hoopla, and other platforms, with more soon joining the mix. You can buy it on Blu-Ray–and from Wal-Mart of all places.

A Quarantine Proposal

Sirena’s Gallery tells the story of a recently widowed gallery owner. In her journey of grief, she finds her way back to art-making. I can distinctly remember writing the logline in a Google Form for 1708 Gallery’s open call. (Every writer is familiar with a blinking cursor.)

From the depths of my Ocean Hill bedroom, I thought back to the kudzu-tangled South of my early adulthood. The gallery, located in my college town of Richmond, Virginia, is a contemporary non-profit art space dating back to 1978. Though my sister interned there after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, I had no connection to the venue. I only knew it as a local institution that brought national artists to Richmond and nurtured local talent by participating in the First Fridays Art Walk. I was one of many who popped into the gallery on the first Friday of the month to check out what was on the walls…or floor or maybe ceiling.

It was not long before the gallery notified me that I had won. After losing studio spaces in Bay Ridge and Bed-Stuy, I was desperate to have a place to work. If that meant returning to Virginia for two weeks, I would find the safest way to do it.

Though my residency took place in May 2020, when so much about the virus was still unknown, I vowed to return to Brooklyn. I had no interest in joining the flocks abandoning New York City for the next 1-2 years–or forever. In under two days, the person I was quarantining with joined me at the gallery to film what I could not do alone. I spent the remaining 12 days by myself. I filmed in the gallery, outside in post-industrial splendor, and then back in the gallery but on Zoom, GoogleMeet, FaceTime, and Photo Booth.

When I returned to Brooklyn, I packed my bags and boxes for my new apartment in Flatbush. Ten months would pass before I touched my Sirena’s Gallery footage again. Certainly part of the procrastination came from the general malaise all of us faced then. Most movie theaters still did not have regular hours again. Others had permanently closed. Still, by Spring 2021, I had a rush of optimism that the summer would feel normal-ish, or at least as much as it could. That meant film screenings and festivals. That meant open art galleries.

I had to finish my movie.

The Witching Hour

So I spent nearly two months editing it, by myself, doing everything between two sluggish laptops and an external harddrive that had seen better days. By May 2021, I had a movie.

The process took courage. Luckily, I was able to work during the pandemic, mostly virtually. But  had two especially demanding clients, one of whom was having me do video editing for a completely different project. I was tired. My laptops were tired. Adobe Premiere crashed many times. Still, I had to finish Sirena’s Gallery. If nobody else ever watched it, it was still an experiment I had to complete for myself.

In 2019, I completed my MFA at The City College of New York in a program called Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice. Basically, we messed around with all kinds of digital media and sometimes combined traditional studio art, creative writing, and performance. I had mounted my thesis exhibition in the campus library archives gallery, where I spent hours upon hours, week after week. That was where I first wondered what it would be like to be a gallery owner, actually do it day in and day out. I wasn’t calling her Sirena yet, but I had started to develop a gallery owner character in my head.

A Whirlwind

Once I had the final cut, I began strategizing how to get the film shown at the Byrd Theatre, the so-called movie palace of Richmond. Snagging a screening there had been a dream since college. It’s tough to recall the exact order of things, but from June to September, I had successfully launched and funded a Kickstarter campaign, completed the coveted screening, gotten an interview about the movie in The Brooklyn Rail, and even secured a distributor. This was despite masking and social distancing hurdles. Summer Hill Entertainment would take another two years to package the film, but they had faith in me very early on. In hindsight, I understand why they wanted to wait to release the film. If you watch Sirena’s Gallery, you will probably understand, too. It was, shall I say, before its time.

Since that whirlwind summer-going-into-fall, the film has also screened at the Stuart Cinema in Greenpoint and Cinema Village near Union Square, and had an installation at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Maryland. The trailer and excerpts have screened in various online art initiatives and in artist talks I’ve given at William & Mary and Old Dominion University. One of the highlights of last October was finding my movie had made the cover of my hometown newspaper: The Arlington Connection. By November, I had Blu-Rays of the film arrive in the mail to my home in Bed-Stuy.

Where to Watch

Today you can stream Sirena’s Gallery on various platforms. There’s the big one, Amazon, but the one that has the best viewership and pays me the best is Tubi. So, yes, I will humbly beseech that you watch the film there.

View the trailer for Sirena’s Gallery on my distributor’s website at Your support will help me dream even bigger and with more courage for future film projects.

Brooklyn Poetry Feature: An Ode to Brooklyn Bodegas

By Christine Stoddard |


Illustration by Christine Stoddard.

5 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 12 a.m., the sight is much the same.

Behold, the faithful shop of city yore,

but still like the old days in this borough.

Not yet transformed by the wave of corporate magicians

and their wands summoning

chain after chain

and franchise after franchise

in Manhattan.

We prefer the grime and grit here.

The Brooklyn bodega welcomes you from

Greenpoint to Bed-Stuy to Sunset Park to Sheepshead Bay,

from Williamsburg to Crown Heights to Canarsie.

Enter the temple of pork rinds, popcorn, and plantain chips.

Row after row of sodas and energy drinks and beers beckon you.

Buy one snack or many and the boring necessities, too:

toilet paper, bleach, sponges, tissues, dish detergent.

Stay clean at any hour, or clean enough.

You don’t owe your landlord sparkles.

Order your lamb over rice,

your pastrami on rye,

your sopping mozzarella sticks.

The wait respects a New Yorker’s pace.

Go, go, go, go, go, go.

The guy grills faster than

the subway during rush hour.

Chop, chop, sizzle—

“Roll or hero?”

“White sauce?” “Hot sauce?”

Time to rush out, stuff your mouth as you bound through the streets.

Say good-bye for now, until back you come. Always come back.

The bodega is a humble place. A familiar place.

A place so entwined with thoughts of home.

‘Badass Lady-Folk TV’: Meredith Binder of Red Hook

By Christine Stoddard |

An actress, filmmaker, Peace Corps alum, and retired engineer shares her oral history.

Happy Women’s History Month! The following is an excerpt from an episode of the talk show “Badass Lady-Folk,” featuring guest Meredith Binder. This audio-only conversation was recorded in July 2023. Hosted by Christine Stoddard, the show is now filmed at Manhattan Neighborhood Network since August 2023. “Badass Lady-Folk” originated on Radio Free Brooklyn, where it currently airs on Fridays at 9am.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for print purposes. Transcription support was provided by BQE Media editorial assistant Britney Trachtenberg.

Christine: You’re listening to the Badass Lady-Folk. My name is Christine Stoddard. I’m your host as always, since 2016. Thank you everyone for listening. Today my wonderful guest is Meredith Binder. Hi, Meredith.

Meredith: Hi, Christine. Thanks for having me.

Christine: Yeah! Thanks so much for being on! So, how do I know Meredith? I know Meredith through the world of theatre. We met in a show that I co-produced with Beverly Bonner at the Broadway Comedy Club. Meredith has been in my comedy show “Quail Tails.” She’s done “Cleansing Limpia,” a workshop piece I had at Irondale. There’s probably something I’m forgetting, but yeah, we already worked together a bunch in the past few months that we’ve known each other and it’s been great…or, I guess, half a year at this point. But, I wanted to talk to Meredith on the show not just for, you know, some insight into her acting and filmmaking work, but really to focus on her first career in engineering. So, Meredith, tell me, how did you become a “lady engineer?”

Meredith: Well, it really wasn’t intentional. I was in college and I was taking a physics class, just, you know, a prereq for whatever. The physics instructor was the only woman physics professor. Granted, this is 1979, at that point. She said to me, “You have potential. I’m going to ask my husband who’s an experimentalist to give you a job in his lab.” She was a theorist. [She said], “He hires a small number of undergraduates every year.” So, she arranged this. Then, the next thing you know, I was a physics major and I’m not sure how that happened…if I had to be…but I didn’t have any other ideas [about] what I wanted to do, so I became a physics major. Then, I couldn’t get a job and I didn’t know what to do. I decided to get a Master’s Degree in molecular engineering because I didn’t have any better ideas. So, this was all very…just, sort of…life happened to me because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Christine: Ah! So, what were you doing working in the lab?

Meredith: Oh, as an undergraduate?

Christine: Yeah.

Meredith: I was building a scintillation counter or, at least, parts to be used as a scintillation counter. And then, over summer break—

Christine: I don’t know what that is. What is that?

Meredith: Oh, okay. So, we did our experiments at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island even though I was at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Over a school break, so particularly in the summer, we’d go out there as a research team. So, you have the accelerator. We were doing elementary particle research on protons. The proton comes out of the accelerator and then it goes to the scintillation counter so we can take measurements on it: how fast it’s going, like angles it’s coming out at, and so on. That’s all great information for determining what the guts of a proton was back then. But the professor was trying to defy the quark theory in favor of having some three different central charges that were concentric and that was disproven, so I did not go down in history.

Christine: Ah! Okay. I recognize many of the words that you said from high school. Don’t really understand what you just explained to me, but I’m happy that you tried to break it down. Thank you. [Laughs.]

Meredith: So sorry about that. I usually try to make sure people understand, but I think the gist of that story was that I didn’t get to go down in history.

Christine: Yeah, yeah, no I [laughs] got that much. Well, hey! There’s still time. Maybe not in engineering, but in the arts world.

Meredith: [Laughs.]

Christine: Okay, so, you went for a Master’s in molecular engineering. Was that because of the work in the lab or…? I know you said you didn’t know what you wanted to do, but, I mean, maybe you could’ve become a teacher, right? Or you could have done a Master’s in another kind of engineering?

Meredith: Well…

Christine: Or not really?

Meredith: No, I probably could have, but when I was working at Brookhaven, I saw how isolated we were, you know, physically and socially. People just camped out at this lab and I felt like if I continued in physics, I wouldn’t have any life. You know, I wanted to live in an urban area and, you know, raise kids and have access to the arts and that just didn’t seem like the life to me. So, I was looking for something else, but, you know, along the way, I graduated, and I couldn’t get the job. I don’t think there’s that kind of prejudice anymore. I think you can get an engineering job with a physics degree now, but you couldn’t back then. And so, having, you know, a great senior thesis project and, you know, high GPA and all that…That didn’t matter. It would have been better to have neither of those and have the engineering degree. So, I was like, “Well, it will take less time to get a Master’s than another Bachelor’s. So, I will…do that.”

Christine: Yeah, so, do you think that the intention at that time with the physics undergrad was then to go for a PhD program in physics or something else? Like, not for you, but why…Do you have any idea why that program would have been designed?

Meredith: Oh, the undergraduate program I was in?

Christine: Mhm. Yes.

Meredith: Michigan, at the time, was the third-top physics school in the country and the undergraduate program was very small. And so, we took classes… Starting junior year, all our classes were combined with the graduate students. So, I don’t know if the undergraduate program had any raison d’etre other than to provide a physics degree in a very large state university. But, the graduate program was definitely geared toward academics and we had people from all over the world in the program. It was bigger than the undergraduate program.

That’s the end of the excerpt! Listen to the full episode here:

More at

‘Believe the Hype’ Column: Rest in Peace, Richard Lewis; New Bushwick Foodtown; Gowanus Migrant Shelter

By Christine Stoddard |

Richard Lewis

Less than a month after the premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 12, comedian Richard Lewis passed away. On the show, he plays Larry David’s best friend, but that was no fiction: The two grew up together in New York City’s comedy scene and were lifelong friends. They were even born in the same hospital—the now-defunct Brooklyn Jewish Hospital and Medical Center of Crown Heights—in 1947. Though Lewis was raised in Englewood, NJ, he brought a Brooklynite’s sensibilities to his stand-up and acting. I was recently reminded of his role as Prince John in my childhood favorite Men in Tights (1993):

Prince John: Such an unusual name, “Latrine.” How did your family come by it?

Latrine: We changed it in the 9th century.

Prince John: You mean you changed it TO “Latrine”?

Latrine: Yeah. Used to be “Sh*thouse.”

Prince John: It’s a good change. That’s a good change.

May his memory be a blessing.

New Bushwick Foodtown

There’s a big, beautiful Foodtown in Bushwick and I’ve got the photos to prove it. The supermarket, located at 54 A Noll St., boasts bright lighting, the air of cleanliness, and a wealth of prepared food, including a hot food bar. This was my neighborhood for a year not too long ago and, let me tell you, this Foodtown would’ve been convenient then. My only complaint was that there were only three egg bagels on Friday at 5 p.m., but I guess you snooze, you lose.

Gowanus Migrant Shelter

In my reporting for this column and stories you may have seen already and more to come, I have been outside of the migrant shelters at 47 Hall St. in Clinton Hill and Floyd Bennett Field in Marine Park. I also visited the outside of the illegally run migrant “fauxtel”—that’s “faux hotel,” in case you didn’t get it—at Sarr’s Wholesale Furniture in Richmond Hill. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve bought candy from the same little Ecuadorian girl on the subway. I last saw her selling candy last Saturday, when an 8-year-old should be playing or doing homework. She was so young that making change from a $20 was a task because she is still learning arithmetic. (I felt bad and won’t try such a large bill next time; it was all I had at the time and I wanted to help.) The desperation that asylum seekers feel to flee their countries and start over, especially in the toughest city on the planet, brings tears to my eyes.

The migrant shelter I’m adding to my list for reporting purposes will open in Gowanus. While there has been pushback, including at a town hall meeting that took place on March 4, the city has already hired Bhrags Home Care Corporation. Due to open at 3rd St. and Bond St., the former brewery is slated to accommodate 400 migrant men. The Third Street Block Association has filed a lawsuit against the shelter due to concerns over the number of people and local environmental conditions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Gowanus Canal is not only “heavily contaminated” but considered a national priority for cleanup. Let’s see what happens.

Eyesore: Composting On the Sidewalk

By Christine Stoddard |

Seen on the sidewalk near the Bedford-Nostrand G train stop. Curbside Composting service is currently available to all Brooklyn and Queens residents. Curbside Composting service is year-round, and every week on your recycling day. Send your photos of neighborhood eyesores to

Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblyperson Emily Gallagher Honor Women of Distinction Luncheon at Wythe Hotel

By Christine Stoddard |

Senator Salazar and Assemblyperson Emily Gallagher honor six Brooklyn women for community activism and leadership.

A group shot of Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblyperson Emily Gallagher with the honorees. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

On March 2, New York Senator Julia Salazar (District 18) and Assemblyperson Emily Gallagher (Assembly District 50) honored six women with records of community service and ties to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, and East New York. These “women of distinction” included Trina Rose Cutugno, Vivian Legions, Lina Lee, Dana Rachlin, Lauren Comito, Hannah Anousheh, and Tami Green. The honorees joined Senator Salazer and Assemblyperson Gallagher with their colleagues and loved ones in an intimate gathering for remarks and light refreshments. The event was scheduled to coincide with Women’s History Month.

Here is a bit about each of these accomplished local women:

In addition to being an artist and filmmaker, Trina Rose Cutugno is a Greenpoint advocate for home care, accessible and affordable housing, disability inclusion, and health justice.

Vivian Legions is a longtime resident of Berry St.-South 9th St. Houses (NYCHA) in Williamsburg and President of the Tenant Association. She advocates for the residents she represents by organizing community events, distributing food and PPE during the pandemic, and fighting for quality-of-life improvements.

Lina Lee is the co-founder and executive director of Communities Resist, a legal services organization that represents the most vulnerable tenants and helps to organize tenant associations. She is a longtime tenant lawyer.

Gallagher and Salazer with honoree Dana Rachlin. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Dana Rachlin is the co-founder of We Build The Block, which supports communities facing over-policing, mass incarceration, and gun violence, as well as numerous other innovative public safety, community and civic programs over the years.

Lauren Comito is currently the branch manager at the Leonard Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) in Williamsburg and is the executive director of Urban Librarians Unite (ULU), a library workers’ advocacy organization.

Hannah Anousheh helped found the East New York Community Land Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving affordability for future generations and providing a vehicle to create generational wealth, and serves as its Campaigns Director.

Tami Green is a community liaison and fitness professional with a passion for community, public safety, and quality of life. She gained attention for claiming an abandoned house in East New York and fighting investors for possession in a years-long struggle.


Illustration: Turkish Delights

By Christine Stoddard |

Illustration by Christine Stoddard

The above illustration was published with the following blurb in the March 7, 2024 print edition:

In this week’s issue, we have a feature on the Turkish restaurants in South Brooklyn. Do you want the regional and ethnic cuisine of your neighborhood featured in the newspaper? Do you have a favorite chef? Dish? Or do you know a restaurant owner with a fascinating story to tell? Send your tips, nominations, and love letters to editor Christine Stoddard for consideration. Essays about specific dining experiences will also be considered.

‘Believe the Hype’ Column: An Ode to FiveMyles Gallery

By Christine Stoddard |

New York City, the City of Dreams, the city of magic and momentum. For a creative person, there may be no better place for inspiration or opportunity, with virtually every culture and industry represented. It is also the capital of hustle and ambition. New Yorkers yearn. We strive. Like many transplants, I moved here with a vision for a more exciting and fulfilling creative career and, dare I say it, life overall . I wanted access to experiencing and, in some cases, making art, music, fashion, movies, and media. While I had a few contacts when I first made Brooklyn home, I still had many more people to meet. When it came to really knowing the borough’s movers and shakers, I didn’t know anymore. Networking and making connections is crucial in a city full of millions of enterprising (sometimes pushy) people. One venue that gave me a chance early on was FiveMyles Gallery in Crown Heights.

Madi Dangerously & Arts East New York

Some things happened for me quickly after I moved here in mid-2016. Curator Madi Dangerously, aka Mariama Rafetna Primus, who is a local mover and shaker, invited me to participate in a group show. This was 2017 and the idea was a one-night event dedicated to the divine feminine. Not too long after that, Madi also generously invited me to participate in an exhibition on gentrification at the now-defunct Arts East New York, founded by Catherine Green. It seems that the gallery was another casualty of the pandemic. May another contemporary art space replace it. East New York deserves to have that kind of resource and space for expression. Every neighborhood does. But back to Madi: She was bringing together newcomers and long-timers alike to have visual and performance art conversations about migration and real estate. It was a welcome opportunity for someone like me who genuinely wanted to contribute to the community  that was already established here. Not all of us want a Starbucks on every corner. Thank you, Madi, for seeing that in me.

Hanne Tierney & Marine Cornuet

Insert snowball effect. By early 2018, I had my own show at FiveMyles. To that, I should say thank you to Hanne Tierney. Hanne is the founder of FiveMyles, which she opened 25 years ago. The place was incorporated as a non-profit in 1999, championing experimental and largely non-Western work or work by otherwise under-represented artists. At the time that I met Hanne, her second-in-command was Marine Cornuet, a French poet who has since moved on to a career in literary publishing. Marine was really my main point of contact, though I was immediately taken by Hanne’s warmth and passion for the arts in Central and East Brooklyn. She is a friendly, likable person, which is the type of personality more gallery owners should consider cultivating and projecting. Kindness is a skill.

Lady Pandora

My first show at FiveMyles was a one-night affair called “Lady Pandora,” and featured a video art installation, live poetry performances, and framed photos hung pretty traditionally on the wall. I directed the night, which was about feminine power and the tension between the magic and struggles of womanhood. All of the videos and photos were ones I had created; the line-up of poets, which included myself, featured mostly women who appeared in the videos and photos. They were my collaborators and the vast majority of them lived in Brooklyn, from Greenpoint to Fort Greene. One message present in much of the work is that we conjure spells because of our challenges as women. We aim to reclaim our power. The gallery was packed and I met neighbors and had conversations that still inspire me.

Since then, I have had two smaller events at FiveMyles–screenings of my film Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares and video poems from my project Belladonna Magic. The first took place last fall; the other took place this month. Maybe these events were smaller because I did not promote them as hard as “Lady Pandora,” but I suspect the attendance had more to do with the state of cultural institutions in New York City. People go out less often. Virtual events are more common. We have lost some of the synchronicity and thrilling chaos of a time before ubiquitous screens and livestreaming. What a difference a few years can make. Ironically, my reach is larger than it was before the pandemic. Social media as an arts platform has created new types of exposure and attracted new fans. Brooklyn Magazine named me one of its Top 50 Most Fascinating People in 2023. They came to that conclusion because of an online survey that spread via social media. Still, I thank FiveMyles for the in-person space to meet fans in real life and make face-to-face connections. I feel comfortable speaking for many people when I say Crown Heights will be a different place when FiveMyles closes in June. Yes, I purposely buried the lede. To quote Ruby Lindsey, who replaced Marine at FiveMyles, “Sometimes it’s just time.”

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Photos are from the columnist’s personal archives. 


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