IFFBoston 2012 – 24 Hours at The South Street Diner Q&A
Director Melissa Dowler of 24 Hours at The South Street Diner took some time last week to speak with Impassionedcinema after the IFFBoston 2012 premier.
24 Hours At The South Street diner follows a full day in the life of the diner, and delves deeper into the history, with contributions from former owners and operators, as well as its colorful cast of regulars.
Max: What inspired you to do a film about the South Street Diner?
Melissa: We live down the street from the diner and I knew a bit about the history of the restaurant since I grew up in Boston. The South Street Diner is a landmark, a rare and special piece of living history, the kind of place that you don’t find so often today in many cities and towns. It’s also the only 24-hour restaurant in the city of Boston which makes it compelling. My husband and co-filmmaker, Tom, and I believed it was a great story that no one had told and we wanted to be the ones to tell it.
We were inspired by the experiences that customers have at the diner. The people we talked to in the film, whether it was their first time in the diner or they were in there everyday, were always treated really well. No matter who you are, everyone is treated as an equal at the diner and you can’t say that about many places.
Max: What was your target audience?
Melissa: We wanted people who live and work in Boston and know of the diner to be able to recognize and celebrate it. Usually people think of Boston being the place where Cheers was based. The South Street Diner is the real Cheers and there are a lot of fond memories of the diner in the community.
The diner appeals to many people, so we really wanted the film to showcase the menagerie of visitors whether it’s people who have just exited the clubs, casual diners, or policemen who have finished their shift. We wanted our film to be true to the reality of a day in the diner, which is a melting pot of cultures and classes. Sometimes things are bit edgy at the South Street Diner, but it really depends when you visit. It’s a different diner at different times of the day. We wanted the audience to feel the film reflected the place authentically in all its variety.
Max: What was your decision when it came to highlighting the people you talked with?
Melissa: We really felt the story was about the diner as the star. As the owner says in the movie, the South Street Diner is a bigger celebrity than any single person.
Max: I noticed in your Press Release that the documentary was shot in two days? Could you elaborate on that?
Melissa: We actually shot the core of the film in the diner over the course of 24 straight hours. We wanted to illustrate what a crazy challenge it is to keep a restaurant open 24/7 and felt that was reflected by us taking on the challenge of shooting for 24 hours in the diner, which is only 900 square feet. We had to be very small with our equipment and we had no space for extra lighting equipment so we had to work entirely with natural light.
We shot the documentary with the Canon 5D Mark II. It’s a DSLR camera that was phenomenal in the low-light situations we ran into. It kind of worked to our benefit to be a small crew. Because we were filming with compact equipment, we were able to establish rapport with people in the diner really quickly.
The owner of The South Street Diner, Sol Sidell, is very hands-on. He’s there all the time. Just the other night, he worked a 12 or 13-hour shift. It’s what he needs to do to keep the place running smoothly. The diner is able to offer a good value to customers because of that commitment. Sol doesn’t believe he can afford to sit back. He puts his entire heart and soul into the diner. He’s had many a late night. So the fact that we spent one late night there filming is something we really can’t complain about.
Max: What would hope people take away after watching this documentary on The South Street Diner?
Melissa: We wanted to show people that in our age of iPhone’s, chain stores and social media, it’s important to have places where people can feel a sense of real, physical connection. People remember the experiences they’ve had in the South Street Diner and it’s more than just somewhere to get a bite to eat. Places like it are really important to the fabric of the community.