One Year Lease. The apartment seemed OK, it definitely had potential, it definitely needed work … but we decided to sign a lease.” These were Brian Bolster’s famous last words before the phone started ringing off the hook from his nutty-as-a-fruitcake landlady. Luckily for us, Bolster is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and manages to astutely translate his New York City renting nightmare into his painfully hilarious short film One Year Lease. As Michael Tully comments on Hammer to Nail, “as we hear the first words out of landlord Rita’s mouth on Bolster’s voicemail, it becomes without question a distinctly New York City tale. NYC has its particular brand of crazy person but when it comes to the city’s landlords… actually, please excuse me while I get up and walk into my backyard and lie down in the grass and stare up at the sky and remind myself that I don’t live there anymore.”
Bolster admits that he ignored all of the initial red flags, but then the phone calls came: almost 100 voicemails from Rita, equating to over an hour of audio. The biggest challenge in making the documentary was developing a storyline from all the random voicemail audio recordings. The contrastingly serene visuals of unpacking and packing provide the narrative arc along with some clever shot choices adding wry layers to the aural diatribes. Casper the cat features prominently – nonchalantly unaware of Rita’s escalating concerns for his welfare. That said, the recordings are riveting listening and Rita’s colorful character thunders from the tapes to such effect that you could almost watch the film in the pitch dark.
With this film, Bolster has hit a surprisingly universal nerve, especially considering the reactions from audiences at the film’s screenings at Sundance, Tribeca and AFI, which formed a mixture of amusement, delight and glee. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Bolster says “I really hope people will get a kick out of it. For me, when I watch it, I’ll actually get frustrated even though I’m so far removed from that place now.”
Brian Bolster graduated from the film program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. One Year Lease, won the award for Best Documentary Short at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and is currently a Cinema Eye Honors 2015 nominee for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking. His short documentary films have screened at Slamdance Film Festival, Camden International Film Festival, Outfest and Traverse City Film Festival among others. He currently lives in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City (undisturbed, we hope!)