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.

Public school film festival coming to parks

Every year, the Parks Department hosts its annual Movies Under the Stars series, bringing new and classic films to green spaces throughout the five boroughs.
Parks is building upon that tradition this year by showcasing some lesser known filmmakers…the students of New York City public schools.
The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the Department of Education announced that 32 short films created by public school students will be recognized during the 3rd annual New York City Public School Film Festival.
In years past, the student film festival has been held indoors, but this year the event will be held outside and free to the public through the Movies Under the Stars program.
The New York City Public School Film Festival was created to provide an opportunity for students to have their work recognized and consider careers in filmmaking. The films represent the talent and diversity of students citywide, and filmsn were chosen by a panel of teachers and media professionals.
“Congratulations to all the student filmmakers for their insightful and inspiring contributions at this year’s NYC Public School Film Festival,” said Anne del Castillo, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “We are so proud to partner with the Department of Education and renowned award-winning talents to support these young filmmakers.”
“The unique voices featured highlight the diversity and talent of New York City students, and we’re thankful for our arts teachers and school leaders who support our students’ creativity, artistic skills, and critical thinking every day,” added Maria Palma, executive director for the Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects.
The film’s showcased during the festival represent a variety of cinematic disciplines, including animation, documentary, and short narrative film. All of the films are between one and five minutes long.
In addition to being a showcase of the best student talent citywide, the NYC Public School Film Festival was created to help emerging student filmmakers consider future careers in the entertainment industry.
To this end, the festival reached out to a variety of professionals in the world of film who will attend this weekend’s events and speak to students about their work.
These include Tamar-kali, the Brooklyn-born composer of the Oscar-nominated Mudbound, and Kemp Powers, the Brooklyn-born, Oscar-nominated co-writer and co-director of the award-winning film Soul and writer of One Night in Miami.
The Public School Film Festival will take place in parks throughout the city. These include a July 9th showing at Travers Park in Queens, a July 10th screening at Central Park in Manhattan, and a July 11th screening at Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
If you are not able to attend in person but still want to watch the work of these talented students, all of the winning films are available to watch online or on YouTube at the NYC Mayor’s Office’s official channel.

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing