Stefan Nadelman’s Flash-animated film Terminal Bar was recently awarded the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at Sundance 2003. This original and compelling documentary uses still images, text, music and animation to illustrate the lives of the denizens of a notorious Manhattan dive bar that once employed Nadelman’s father and attracted many of New York’s forgotten and downtrodden citizens.
For Nadelman, an autodidactical filmmaker, animation was not only the best approach, but the only approach to his award-winning project. Drawn from 2500 pictures taken by his father, the most pure route to bringing Terminal Bar to life was to scan the negatives digitally and animate using Flash. Being able to animate the movements of the pictures offered the greatest flexibility in regards to manipulating the image — tweaking, perfecting, and completing complex moves — thereby superceding any other filmmaking method.
"My path to filmmaking was partly serendipitous and partly deliberate," explains Nadelman. "My father used all the available wall space to hang his photography of the sad black-and-white portraits taken at the Terminal Bar. In addition to his own work, my father hung Escher prints, and so through transitive property, I became fond of this mathematical approach to art. As an adolescent, I had taken to pen and paper, mostly cartooning. I sampled different mediums as any normal young artist would, until Apple debuted the 512k in the mid 1980s. This was the beginning of my love affair with the computer."
With access to a treasure trove of the thousands of photographs his father took while he worked at the Manhattan bar in the ’70s, as well as the colorful stories that he had saved in his head, Nadelman set out to give exposure to this unique story. It took a year for Nadelman to fashion the 23-minute documentary, using simple programs like IVIEW, Premiere, and Sound Edit.
Now Nadelman is beginning to enjoy the fruits of his labor with critical and audience acclaim at both Sundance and RESFEST, where it won the Audience Choice Prize. Yet despite his recent success, the humble Nadelman says that whenever he refers to himself as a filmmaker, he feels slightly uncomfortable with the label: "I believe that saying you’re a filmmaker is like saying you’re a DJ. No one will believe you because everyone claims to be one." Fortunately, he has more than enough evidence to support his claim. Terminal Bar is a shining example of the way in which animation is a key tool for the modern filmmaker and is a tribute to the seamless marriage of content and technique. Terminal Bar can be seen next at Black Maria and the N.Y. International Independent Film and Video Festival.