Queens Theatre on Thursday, April 22, will spotlight stories of resilience and hope amid the COVID-19 pandemic with a new film, “I See You and You See Me,” based on oral history and source material from the Queens Memory Project, a community archiving program that aims to record and preserve contemporary history across the borough.
The film, a Madison Square Films production, was written, adapted and directed by Harris Doran and produced by Queens Theatre’s Dominic D’Andrea. It features 11 actors presenting the accounts of Queens residents who shared their stories about their lives last year with the Queens Memory Project at the Queens Public Library.
“We are inviting the community to look back at the beginning and remember this time of deep uncertainty, where people were trying to navigate this new reality and letting the weight of it sink in,” said D’Andrea, the film’s producer and director of community engagement at Queens Theatre. “Everyone had a different way of doing that and was trying to figure out how to deal with this moment and how to take care of themselves.”
According to D’Andrea, at the time of the film’s conception, Queens was the “epicenter of the epicenter” of the global health crisis that impacted the borough. Together, the Queens Memory Project and Queens Theatre sought a responsibility to document the events unfolding, resulting in creating a love letter to the Queens community.
“This project was created from the stories of Queens community members, with Queens artists, in Queens, during the height of the pandemic,” D’Andrea said. “While we were all experiencing this trauma together, we found beauty and laughter and existential questions and our humanity underneath. This film celebrates all of that. This film is Queens.”
Doran had spent a lot of time reading and sorting through the archives of the Queens Memory Project searching for stories that told a unique perspective, he said. The duo had also encouraged community members to submit their stories to the archive.
“I wanted to make sure this film reflected a diversity of gender, race, sexuality and then perspectives — from mental health and the way people cope,” said Doran, the film’s writer and director. “We wanted to gather stories that were whole, extreme and unique.”
At turns sad, frustrating, angry, humorous and even hopeful, the stories illustrate the emotional and psychological impact of the events of 2020. As the film opens up, it takes viewers back to when New York City had shut down due to the virus in March 2020, where “the stories of Queens were silenced, but the voices of Queens still called out to be heard.”
The vast array of stories sheds light on people focusing on their health, food, family, dating and finding humor in the situation, according to Doran and D’Andrea, who characterized the stories as personal inner experiences that people were facing during quarantine.
Under extreme circumstances, Doran was able to create a cohesive film, according to D’Andrea, that included a mix of remote Zoom filming and socially distanced in-person filming inside Queens Theatre, lending itself to a COVID-time aesthetic. As the producer of the project, D’Andrea had to work remotely, making phone calls to check in.
“We had to do it all remote in that way, but I still tried to create an environment that still felt as artistically real as being there in person — treating the material with the same weights and treating the actors with the respect for how we are going to approach this craft and not in any way letting up on that,” Doran said.
For James Seol, an actor who stars in the movie, filming at Queens Theatre was an opportunity to be creative again while he was grappling with a lot of uncertainty amid the pandemic. Seol portrays a hopeful and optimistic character named Sto Len who is trying to figure out everything that is happening in the world.
“It’s interesting to see how art collides with the things that are happening in our world and to have a record of personal, individual, unique experiences,” Seol said. “I hope the film inspires people to reflect on everything that has happened in the last year and maybe start to inspire and serve as a catalyst for questions they may have.”
A year later, as vaccinations continue to roll out and people look toward the future post-pandemic, D’Andrea and Doran said the film is a piece of art tied to a time in place that will ultimately be remembered as an important project.
“We will always have this moment where the world had to stop, especially in Queens, where we were most impacted and restricted,” D’Andrea said. “It was a very different experience because everything was that much more heightened. We were the COVID narrative, and I think that’s worth remembering.”
Queens Theatre will debut the film on YouTube on Thursday, April 22 at 7 p.m. ET. To learn more and RSVP to see the film for free, visit queenstheatre.org/event/coming-soon-i-see-you-and-you-see-me/.