When Paolini, 28, learned redevelopment would be forcing the longtime hotel resident and artist out of the apartment he’s embellished with gold leaf, paint and a myriad of trinkets over the years, she set out to document it.
The result is “222,” a short, "Alice in Wonderland"-inspired film shot inside DeCock's apartment at the hotel on West 23rd Street.
Paolini — who befriended the artist after moving to New York in her teens — spent much of her time at the hotel with its host of artistic former residents.
Many of the hotel's longtime tenants have since been pushed out, and a group of hoteliers recently purchased the site with plans to redevelop it.
“If you go into the Chelsea Hotel now… there’s construction, there’s plastic everywhere, and then you enter [DeCock’s] apartment [and] it’s this strange Wonderland,” she said. “His apartment is really an art installation unto itself, and very much a creation of who he is.”
The film casts friends of the producers — including “The Wire” actor Clark Johnson and DeCock himself — as characters from Lewis Carroll's classic tale.
Carroll's ability to “ridicule... human rules and laws” always stuck with Paolini, she said.
“If you look at the logic of it, there’s this old landmark that has held wonderful memories, that is just a fixture of New York City,” she said. “You imagine, ‘Why wouldn’t these walls be preserved? Why would this be taken away?’”
Paolini and her co-producer Ashley Aberg spent two months in pre-production before shooting the film inside the hotel over the course of three days.
For Aberg, 26, who grew up in Manhattan, the film was an opportunity to “remember the place and the people by making something truly beautiful out of it.”
“It hurts my heart to see places like this getting gutted and torn down to make way for something that is just sort of very sterile and generic,” she said. “It loses an amount of soul that I think the city is known for, and should really be preserving.”
While the film is set in New York, its themes are meant for a broader audience, Paolini noted.
“We made it a silent film so that it could be something more universally projected, that we could bring to audiences… in virtually all cities that are experiencing the ‘out with the old, in with the new,’ due to monetary gain,” she explained.
Paolini and Aberg have submitted “222” to five film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival.
"I hope the story reaches people; I hope it touches them," Paolini said. “If we’re just a small part of preserving the history and the people that inhabited this place, it will be meaningful to me. And for [DeCock], I know it will be meaningful that he will have this… to look back on."
When the characters are forced to vacate the apartment at the end of the film, they step out of DeCock’s apartment into the hallways of the hotel.
The producers purposely left the halls “as dark and construction-filled as possible,” Paolini said.
“We didn’t mince any of it — we left it all in,” she explained. “To us it was very important… to show how the real world has imposed and is taking this place away.”