When Jess Thoubboron wanted to screen her new short film, Strangers, she thought about how to showcase it in a way that connected to her motivation for making the film in the first place.
Strangers, Thoubboron’s directorial debut, is about two strangers who meet and instantly form a special bond and encourage one another to traverse their self-imposed boundaries and reexamine how they perceived themselves.
Instead of putting the film up at a small theater, or screening it for a few friends in her apartment, Thoubboron decided to make like her characters and challenge herself by putting together a whole night of shorts (including her own), with contributions from friends, collaborators and, yes, even strangers.
The film series, Imagined Boundaries, is happening this Saturday, August 20 at Silent Barn and features six shorts by a diverse group of local filmmakers. In anticipation of the screenings, I called Thoubboron to talk about the show’s theme, the inspiration behind her short, and approaching strangers on the streets of New York City.
Boundaries are something that I think about quite a lot in my personal life: how to break down boundaries between myself and strangers; how to make myself feel like I’m actually part of a living the breathing organism of New York City instead of just an isolated individual. And I noticed that boundaries are a thing that a lot of people think about, whether it’s your personal boundaries or your political boundaries between you and someone in another party or even spiritual boundaries, between you and death.
I tried to keep [the series] pretty broad and based on my own gut feelings about these films, and about how these filmmakers were challenging certain ideas related to boundaries, whether it’s the viewer and the filmmaker boundary—a film that leaves you with more questions than answers, which are personally my favorite films—or your personal boundaries—what are your boundaries like with your family; do you feel like you don’t have enough boundaries between people you know?
[Strangers] actually just got into its first one. I wanted to create a screening event not because I think film festivals aren’t important, but because I think they can be insular. I wanted to create a screening where you could come even if you didn’t know these filmmakers. I’d love to meet more filmmakers who I don’t know.
One of my friends who stars in the film, Rose (a musician in this band called Prima) told me this story where she was talking on the phone with a family member, had a conversation that went really downhill and then left this really angry voicemail on her sister’s phone and was screaming,“Fuck!”
And then all of sudden she passes this guy who she doesn’t know, but has seen a few times and he asks her if she’s ok and she’s totally embarrassed but is like, “Do you really want to know?” and they engage in this amazing conversation that lasts for hours.
She sparked in me this idea for a film that has been brewing for 10 years, because I always had this idea of meeting a stranger and having this instant connection that feels like you’ve known this person forever—so that instantly the isolation or alienation you feel maybe walking around New York falls away when you’re with this person.
It’s kind of this dreamlike film because these two strangers go from not knowing each other at all to challenging each other about how they see themselves. I call it a kind of Zen romance, kind of jokingly, but they’re able to get to these core issues that people they know can’t touch.
The way that I used to think about New York is that people have a lot of boundaries, maybe more so than in other cities, and that was my inspiration make this film. Because I was very lonely in New York and was isolated when I first got here.
Since then, I’ve actually started to talk to a stranger every day. It’s a rule that I have for myself in an effort to put myself out there and stop being shy and to really put that question to myself of are there boundaries between me and others, and if so, what are they?
Sometimes I’ll pace around for a half hour and work up the courage to do it. For me it’s really just getting myself out of my head, because that’s really a problem me and a lot of other people share. You spend a lot of time in your head maybe making assumptions about other people.
I try and perceive people’s body language, how they carry themselves, and figure out who needs a conversation. I met this homeless man who lives in Union Square and I talk to him whenever I see him and it’s really nice because he told me [the first time we spoke] that I was the only person who talked to him the whole day; I was the only one who acknowledged his existence.
Another time in Washington Square Park I had a conversation with a man just talking about the music—there was jazz playing in the park—and it turned into him showing me how to do cartwheels and giving me a capoeira demonstration.
At the end of the day, I just want to connect with people. And I hope that it helps someone in a similar place where maybe they don’t feel a part of any scene or like they’re a little isolated.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Imagined Boundaries is happening Saturday, August 20, 4:30 pm at the Silent Barn in Bushwick, suggested donation: $5 to $10 at the door.