Nick Borenstein is a New York-based writer, director, dancer and actor who has impressively had two short films – 99 and Sweater – accepted into the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Close-up Culture welcome Nick onto the site to chat about this achievement, his bond with Kathryn Markey, bringing dance to the big-screen, and much more.
Q: First off, I wanted to give you a huge congratulations for getting two short films into Tribeca. It is especially impressive considering how competitive this year’s festival is. What does this achievement mean to you?
A: Thanks, James – that’s very kind! This achievement means the world. When I was a freshman at NYU, I took a class that was all about the Tribeca Film Festival. It is an absolute honour for a film to be recognised by the same festival years later. And yes, to have have two films recognised in one year is absolutely insane (and humbling).
Q: A 99 cent store is such a fun setting with laughs and quirky characters to be found down each aisle. Why did you want to use it as a setting for the mother-son interaction in ‘99’?
A: 99 is inspired by the real relationship between my mother and I and for as long as I can remember, she has been obsessed with 99 cent stores. Knowing that, it was only fitting that we set the film in that environment.
Plus, I loved the ability to contrast the bright, bold colours of the store with the darker subject matter of the film..
Q: You worked with Kathryn Markey before on ‘Trip’. Can you tell us about working with Kathryn?
A: Kathryn is a wonderful muse. She played my mother in Trip and her dynamic performance compelled me to write another piece for her.
She has the rare ability to make a character absolutely hilarious in one moment and follow it with a gripping dramatic turn. Because of our backgrounds in theatre, we have a similar rehearsal and performance ethos which I believe makes the performances that much more grounded and authentic. I truly can’t quit her. She has a cameo in my next film as well.
Q: I can relate to the lead character in ‘Sweater’ and the way one small interaction can transform an entire mood. What inspired ‘Sweater’? Was it merely self-conscious feelings you had about a sweater one day?
A: If only, James! In Sweater, the protagonist is at an all-time low, having just been brutally rejected. Rejection is an experience that is all-too relatable, and in the film, the protagonist carries his rejection and sadness with him. It isn’t until he experiences a small moment of kindness from a stranger that he connects with his joy (as expressed through movement).
I enjoy creating darkly comedic films as I find humour to be a great way to explore these dark realities. We live in a scary, intense and often, overwhelming, world and I wanted Sweater to bring joy to audiences and to showcase the good, the kind and the joyfulness of humanity.
Q: I don’t want to give too much away about ‘Sweater’, but it includes a delightful spontaneous dance sequence. How much fun was it to bring blend your passion for dance with directing and acting?
A: It was a the most fun. Frankly, it was a dream actualised. I have danced my whole life and always wanted to dance in a film. It was absolutely terrifying but fortunately, I was supported by an incredibly talented team including Tiana Hester, our choreographer, and our dancers.
In making Sweater, it also amplified my desire to continue making films that involve dance and blur the lines of music video, musical and narrative.
Q: What do you love about performing and creating?
A: I’ve always loved telling stories. From playing an 8-year-old Albert in Bye Bye Birdie to filming parody videos in middle school, creating has always been my passion.
While performing took a bit of a backseat as I segued into a producing career, I knew I also had a point of view. That desire to share that POV prompted me to start actualising that voice on screen.
Q: I feel as though we don’t see anywhere near enough dance in modern American films. What are some of your favourite dance films?
A: I completely agree. I made this film as genre mix between a narrative film and a music video. Dancing evokes a vast range of emotion and I’ve always felt that there’s an opportunity to capture movement on film in a grounded way to represent these emotions.
I wanted the film to be a celebration of music, dance and film and was inspired by Spike Jonze’s Kenzo and Apple adverts as well as Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes film adaptation of Jerome Robbins ballet NY Export: Opus Jazz.
I am also always inspired by the incredible Instagram and YouTube dance videos from choreographers like Candace Brown, Miguel Zarate and Parris Goebel.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions for the future? What kind of films do you hope to make?
A: I am currently writing a feature film and developing two new digital series, one inspired by Sweater. The dream is to continue writing, directing and performing in films that make people think, feel, laugh, cry and maybe even dance. I also want world peace.