The Graffities No More on the Wall - 1 on 1 with Eirini Alligiannis
By: Darida Rose
"Louie Gasparro: 5Pointz" is a short 5 minute documentary that features graffiti artist Louie (KR. One) Gasparro and his journey of being a graffiti artist at 5Pointz in Queens, New York. The documentary highlights Gasparro’s telling of what 5Pointz represents in the graffiti world of New York and beyond, and what it means for the artists of the genre to be featured there. The film ends with credits depicting that 5Pointz, the graffiti Mecca in Queens has now been demolished and turned into luxury apartments.
The film is made by Eirini Alligiannis. The short documentary features diverse shots of the graffiti around this neighbourhood alongside a great beat that plays while Gasparro shares with us her story and take on 5Pointz. The talented Greek Australian photographer and cinematographer does a great job to capture the essence of graffiti art in this documentary.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): What inspired you to make this film? As a photographer did you have a lot of experience with photographing graffiti art?
Eirini Alligiannis (EA): I am a creative soul by nature, however the inspiration for this film was initially sparked by a conversation I had with a roommate while I was living in Queens, New York. This person, a professional breakdancer, suggested the idea of taking photos of him in action at the 5Pointz location. We did this, which resulted in my immediate attraction to this iconic symbol of New York art. During one subsequent visit to 5Pointz, I saw Louie writing what would eventually be his last piece. Fascinated by his work, I quickly rushed back home on the train to get my camera and returned in the hope that he was still there. Call it opportunistic but I call it a love for talented work! From there (and without introduction), I unashamedly set up my camera and started filming Louie to which he queried as to what I was doing. I was a little concerned that my approach was a little unorthodox, but Louie ended up being very gracious and welcoming and open to all my questions. From this conversation, the film was conceived.
Although a longstanding street photographer, my experience in photographing specific graffiti or street art prior to this project was mostly incidental. If I saw art that I appreciated, I would capture it, however prior to meeting Louie, I had no intentions of creating something as involved and considered as this project.
(PJ): Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Louie Gasparro? How did the two of you meet? And what made you work on this film together?
(EA): As mentioned above, the meeting was very serendipitous. I actually spent most of the day filming, taking photos and on rare occasion, asking Louie questions about his craft. Most of our collaboration after this initial visit was over the phone and once I had returned to Australia, this continued via emails and social media. Our passion for our respective arts was the catalyst for creating this film. It was a mutually beneficial endeavour and a way to showcase art, its important historical context and to communicate how change and progress effects individuals and society.
(PJ): Gentrification and “luxury apartments” are definite topics of discussion amongst arts circles in North America. Can you tell us more about the impact of this film related to this theme?
(EA): I would like to believe that this film can shed some light on an issue that effects people, society and culture everywhere. I think we all - not just artists- need to take the time to understand existing communities and issues such as displacement arising from gentrification. Art has strong social power and can influence social awareness. Graffiti has always been, in my opinion, a symbol of true rebellion and the voice, albeit visually, of the lower class. This was especially true of New York City in the 1970s but I feel it remains to a lesser, but still significant extent today. 5Pointz was a continuation of this expression until its "voice " and symbolic impact ceased as a result of the redevelopment. As an art lover, I felt somewhat bereaved when I came across the 5Pointz story but I also wondered how much of an impact this loss has had on the community and its identity. I hope the film makes people wonder as I did and ignites enough curiosity and interest to contribute to the wider discussion.
(PJ): There were plenty of diverse shots here, and there must have been a great deal of contemplation involved on your part due to the many artworks in the area. How did you navigate through such a deep ocean? What were some of the cinematic tricks and tools you have used?
(EA): To be honest, I was very instinctive with the process as I wanted it to be as organic as possible. By this, I mean that I did not want to discriminate by imposing my own subjective ideas and preferences. The art work is as diverse as the artists who created them and I wanted to capture this diversity despite any aesthetic or technical appeal. Art is art and it tells a story. People can decide what the story is. I just wanted to present it to the those who wished to enjoy and interpret it.
(PJ): Can you tell us about the challenges of producing this film?
The only challenge I encountered was in trying to find the right editor who would be able to share and communicate my vision. After several attempts with different editors, I eventually found the perfect person via a recommendation given to me by an educator at the film school I worked at. Once this partnership was established, the editing process was seamless and productive. This person was able to nurture my vision while still employing their own expertise. I could not have asked for better circumstances.
(PJ): Can you tell us a bit about the film’s reception?
(EA): I am amazed and humbled at the film’s reception, not only because of the numerous nominations and awards it has received, but also because people feel that we have presented a very important part of New York City’s history. To this day, people reach out to me to express their sincere appreciation for highlighting an important issue. Furthermore, the positive feedback I get from graffiti artists worldwide, especially those from New York, instills in me a sense of pride and achievement.
(PJ): Do you have any plans to make a feature documentary?
(EA): Yes, definitely. I aim to develop the project further by profiling Australian and international graffiti and street artists. I am committed to exploring and exposing the cultural and societal impacts of art in its many forms. In addition to this, I am currently in the post-production phase of a project that centres around female street artists in Sydney. This particular project is currently on hold due to the pandemic crisis, however I am continuing to build upon its foundation through research, networking and relationships.
(PJ): Are there films or documentaries out there focusing on graffiti art that you would recommend to viewers who are interested in such a genre?
(EA): There are many amazing films in this space however I can recommend the following films for those interested in graffiti and street art:
Bomb it (2007)
Exit Through the Gift Shop. A Banksy film (2010)