Volume 17 • Issue 16 | SEPTEMBER 10 - 16, 2004

Jennifer Elster and Gale Howard in Elster’s new film, “Particles of Truth.” Elster, who lived near the World Trade Center in 2001, shot most of the film in Tribeca.

Downtown home inspires film about fears and hope

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

As a sixth-grade student living on New York’s Upper West Side, Jennifer Elster played Uncle Sam in her school play and froze before she could deliver her opening line. Now a writer and director living Downtown, Elster has tackled acting once again, delivering a natural and powerful performance in her first feature film set entirely in and around New York City.

“Particles of Truth” follows eight New Yorkers’ lives over the course of 48 hours as the main character, Lilli Black, played by Elster, prepares for the opening night of her first art exhibition. Elster also wrote, produced and directed the film. Along with Black’s love interest — an obsessive-compulsive writer who works out of his SUV — an ultra-religious roommate, and drug-addict parents, Black confronts her past, her fears and her insecurities.

Elster, who in 2001 lived across from the World Trade Center, shot the film in Tribeca during the summer following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, at a time when she and many other New Yorkers were trying to piece back together their lives, she said. “It was a heart-wrenching, sad and traumatic time in the city, but I felt like I wanted to continue and do my thing,” Elster said. “I shot the film Downtown, I lived Downtown and then the film opens in Tribeca — it couldn’t have been more meaningful and nostalgic.”

The movie’s opening scene alternates between a peaceful blue sky over a Tribeca apartment building and quick shots of each main character struggling alone with his or own fears. The camera leads viewers into the story through the window of Lilli’s Tribeca apartment. In the end, Elster uses another window—the sunroof of the SUV—and sunset sky images to close with a similar, but altered image.

“The sky is like freedom,” she said. “In the beginning there’s some kind of restriction from the freedom. But in the end you make your way through [out of the window] so you can love and hope and enjoy life. Achieving that in a real way can cause a lot of pain though.”

Elster shot the film on Warren, Chambers, Crosby, Leonard Sts. and up and down West Broadway and Broadway. Her next film, “Life on the Ledge,” a story about a man who wants to die until he finds out he is dying, is in post-production and was also filmed in New York — on Franklin St. in Tribeca, on the Brooklyn Bridge, at 42nd St. and in Battery Park City. One shot includes an amazing view of the Verrazano Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, Elster said.

“Particles” combines flashbacks of Lilli’s childhood with real time and was shot in what Elster calls a “low-budget, renegade style.” Shoots included 1 a.m. treks to Harlem, where several scenes take place, to film street scenes at 125th St. and Lenox Ave. “We would run around shooting, then get back in the van and go,” Elster said. “It was definitely a very aggressive style of filming.”

Elster cast Gale Harold from Showtime’s “Queer as Folk” as Morrison Wiley, Black’s love interest. She said he delivered “a very honest and humble performance.” Leslie Lyles, whose past credits include “Mona Lisa Smile” and “Man on the Moon,” plays Mrs. Wiley, and Larry Pine whose film credits include “Maid in Manhattan” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” plays Mr. Wiley. Elizabeth Van Meter plays Black’s religious roommate, Flora, a sad but amusing character obsessed with a disturbed, womanizing man.

“I’ve never been the girl that’s been calling the guy over and over again,” Elster said. “But I can understand how that could happen. All of the characters are feasible, and the film covers such a wide territory that most people can respond to something.”

A New York University graduate and former fashion stylist, Elster once created and cast music videos and photo shoots for artists such as David Bowie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Liv Tyler. She wrote, produced and directed two short films, “Dirty” and “Ill Will.” “Particles of Truth” marks the first time Elster has appeared in front of a camera. “It’s a tricky situation when you have to be raw and vulnerable and reveal the frailties [acting], and then switch to the other side and direct and lead the group,” she said

Elster also just finished writing another script, “A Nervous Society,” that explores people who are unable to commit to long-term relationships. She expects to shoot most of that film in Canada.

“Particles of Truth” opens Sept. 17 at the Village East Cinemas at 2nd Avenue and 12th St. Elster said she hopes people will leave the film feeling more open to the idea of being honest about their fears of living.

“[The film] is kind of dark and depressing, but I also think it’s hopeful,” she said. “The overall message is if you can face yourself and be capable of loving, that the world is actually a beautiful place.”

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