The Bushwick Film Festival respects the past while paving a new path forward.
Catalina Kulczar has always made sense of life’s difficulties through the visual arts.
Born to Hungarian parents in Venezuela, Kulczar moved from Caracas to South Florida and then finally to North Carolina, where she went to school and began working as a photographer.
“I started documenting everything as we travelled,” Kulczar explained during a phone interview this past week.
While in Charlotte, Kulczar met her life partner Juan Miguel Marin, a musician and member of the Brooklyn-based band LEGS, and the two decided to move to New York to pursue their passions. They eventually settled in Greenpoint, a neighborhood that felt like a natural fit for the aspiring artists.
“Greenpoint used to be warehouses and graffiti everywhere and I loved it,” said Kulczar. “It was one big art gallery.”
However, the area has changed greatly since Kulczar arrived, as the warehouses gave way to new development and the artist community slowly moved elsewhere. Then last year the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, dramatically altering life for Greenpoint and its artists once more.
“Everything had to pivot with the pandemic, including the art,” Kulczar explained.
To make sense of COVID, Kulczar turned, as she always does, to the visual arts. This past March, she released a short film titled “When We Paused” on Vimeo. The project documents the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Greenpoint and was shot using 16 mm film to highlight the timeless quality of the neighborhood’s landscape.
“I started the project with film so it would feel natural,” said Kulczar. “Digital can’t compare with how analog film feels, and I wanted this project to show how I felt and how the community felt.”
Kulczar recorded the footage for the film during a series of walks last April. Throughout its entire runtime, only three other people are shown on screen, a far cry from the usual vibrancy of Greenpoint.
“I remember seeing no one,” said Kulczar. “You could hear the silence. I remember only hearing the birds.”
Despite the empty streets, “When We Paused” shifts in its second half to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and the social action that came to Greenpoint in the wake of George Floyd’s death last May.
Kulczar’s camera captures BLM murals as they seamlessly integrate with the timeworn Greenpoint landscape, a stunning visual of resiliency and compassion that inspired the artist.
“The art in Greenpoint became political, which I absolutely loved,” said Kulczar. “People really started taking action. Just look at the McCarren Gathering. They are the perfect example because they still haven’t stopped.”
“When We Paused” was released this past March as a retrospective on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. However, more time has passed since the film’s release, bringing with it even more change.
Vaccines are now readily available and New York City is slowly opening up, bringing hope after such a difficult year.
“It’s remarkable to believe that I lived through that,” said Kulczar, “A few days ago New York had no new COVID deaths for the first time since the pandemic began. We have come a long way.”
However, the sobering memory of all those lost in the past year remains. Kulczar is currently working on another film about the pandemic, a personal documentary that will detail her own experiences.
As more time passes though, “When We Paused” will continue to bear witness to Greenpoint as it was during the pandemic and to how resilient the neighborhood and its people have always been.
“It was a time capsule,” Kulczar explained of the film. “It was my love letter to Greenpoint. We lost a lot during the pandemic, but we still had so much.”
To see more of Kulczar’s work, go to catalinakulczar.com or to Instagram @catalinaphotog.