By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
LOWER EAST SIDE — The cast of downtown characters who populate the new feature film “Dirty Old Town” joined a group of A-List auteurs to celebrate the movie’s premiere last week at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
The film, which focuses on the reliably seedy aspects of the newly gentrified neighborhood, presents a fictional account of real-life antiques dealer Billy Leroy struggling to preserve his Houston Street shop by trafficking in everything from drugs to Nazi memorabilia.
Filmmakers Jenner Furst and Daniel Levin previously produced a documentary using the Lower East Side as its staging ground, and decided to take their appreciation for the formerly gritty streets a step further by integrating real-life personalities into the cinéma vérité-style effort.
“It’s not about sentimentality, it’s not about wishing for something that isn’t,” Furst acknowledged, explaining that the goal was to make New York City and its diverse inhabitants the film’s featured players.
“The story was secondary to the character,” Furst added. “It’s what New York’s all about.”
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Marc Levin produced the movie, which was made for less than $10,000 and will now move to the film-festival circuit.
Other roles in the movie are deftly handled by nightlife impresario Paul Sevigny (brother of actress Chloe), Lower East Side activist and photographer Clayton Patterson, models Ashley Graham and Janell Shirtcliff, and former police detective-turned-actor Scott Dillin.
“I liked working with untrained actors,” said the film’s art director Julia Willoughby Nason. “I felt like they were open to things and more spontaneous. They don’t know the drill.”
The movie jumps from scene to scene — from Billy’s shop near the Bowery to Mott Street during Little Italy’s annual San Gennaro festival — using an ad-libbed script and haunting cinematography that does not seek to romanticize its subjects.
“I think the energy in New York in general is about those hidden gems,” said Nason, a photographer with no prior film experience, of the movie’s locales.
“We as filmmakers were taken along for a ride.”