A tale of birth, death and re-birth set on New York City’s Lower East Side during the mid-19th Century, “The West Begins at Fifth Avenue” imagines the childhood of one of America’s most notorious criminals. It merges the lost language of silent cinema with modern film sensibility and techniques to create an impressionistic mini-epic.
“The West Begins at Fifth Avenue” pays homage to some of the films shot in and around New York City in the days before Hollywood existed, particularly D.W. Griffith’s gangster short, “Musketeers of Pig Alley,” and Raoul Walsh’s Regeneration. The choice to tell our story using such an archaic style comes not out of nostalgia but out of a desire to capture the essential strangeness of the past—its unbridgeable distance, its cadences, and, yes, its silence. The dead don’t talk. We wanted to tap into that haunting sense of mystery that pervades early films and photographs, like those of 19th-century photojournalist and reformer, Jacob Riis, whose images were another inspiration for our film.
Lacking the budget to build lavish period sets, we attempted instead to unearth the vestiges of earlier centuries that still remain beneath the surface or tucked into obscure corners of contemporary New York City and New Jersey. “The West Begins at Fifth Avenue” was shot on location using whatever existing historic structures we could find: The Lower East Side Tenement Museum; the Cornelia Connelly Theater in the East Village; Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town; The New Jersey Museum of Transportation; Brooklyn’s Kensington Stables; and the Civil War-era warehouses of Red Hook.
Credits and bios for the cast and creative team can be found starting here.