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Across the Hudson

The mission was to screen movies on the side of a 106-foot by 120-foot building. The site was lower Manhattan, still healing from the aftermath of September 11, and it offered a potential audience of more than two million people. The standards were raised even higher by the fact that the client was the arts organization Minetta Brook in cooperation with the Whitney Museum of American Art. And there was one more thing: the building was more than a thousand feet away at the end of a pier on the Hudson River.

"From a technical point of view it was interesting because the Holland Tunnel Ventilation Building is not a screen, obviously," says Peter Scharff of New York systems integrator Scharff Weisberg. "It's just what it is, which is the side of a building with some ventilator things to it."

The project included works by Richard Serra, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Peter Hutton, and Colleen Mulrenan. The Holland Tunnel Ventilation Building, on Pier 34 at the junction of Canal and West Streets, offers broad visibility to the estimated 2.5 million residents, commuters, and visitors to the Hudson River Park, that stretches along the river from Battery Park City to 59th Street. Riverrun's nightly screenings ran for three hours every evening from September 21 to October 4.

"This is the second time we've done a project at the Holland Tunnel Ventilation Building," says Diane Shamash, who founded Minetta Brook in 2000. A year and a half ago the arts group presented a film there by Buffalo, New York, artist Marie Jose Burki called Time After, Time Along, The River.

"Whenever an artist has an idea," Shamash explains, "what we do is we try to identify the resources needed to realize their idea. Marie Jose Burki says 'I want to project this film on this 100-foot building.' I didn't know if it technically would be possible. In researching all the possible AV companies in New York and Boston and, really in the whole Northeast, it became clear that Scharff Weisberg was the best. All the people that we might have worked with would have gone to Scharff Weisberg for the projectors that we needed."

Peter Scharff remembers that part of the initial appeal of that first presentation was the unique challenge. "We had actually discussed the idea when we did the original test of should we just hang a screen or something else," he says, "and the decision was, no, because anybody can make a big picture, if you will. What made it more interesting artistically was the fact that we were integrating it into the building facade itself, which from a conceptual art point of view they were really into. Of course that made it harder for us because the building didn't reflect the light as well."

For the first effort, Scharff Weisberg used Digital Projection projectors. This year they used two Christie Digital S12 12,000-lumen projectors. "The biggest issue was converging the projectors," Scharff says. "We stacked the projectors to get 24,000 lumens of light and, of course, when you try to stack projectors from a thousand feet away it's pretty hard to see how to line up the pixels. So the first year we actually used a telescope and they used binoculars this year in order to do it because [otherwise] you can't tell. It's just too far away. Plus the screen surface itself is so rough that it was tough to get it lined up."

The equipment package also included two Doremi hard disk players, a Mackie audio rack, JBL EON 1500 speakers and a Denon CD player.

Creating the proper site lines for projecting required some construction at the site. "We built scaffolding on the side of the West Side Highway over a thousand feet away from the shaft," Scharff says. "To erect the scaffolding we actually pumped water from the Hudson to use as water ballast. This summer, because of the drought, we didn't want to open up a fire hydrant."

Minetta Brook and the Whitney Museum of Art co-presented and funded riverrun. Chrissie Iles, Curator of Film and Video at the Whitney and Shamash co-curated the program. Shamash would not say what the project cost to produce. "We generally do not make our project budgets public," she says.

Deciding if a project of this kind is a success is not easy. "There's no science to the evaluation, but we did feel we had a terrific response and participation," Shamash says. "It's my belief that if you seriously impact one person's life, a project is a success. As for more objective criteria, we know that approximately 100,000 people saw these films, and that we received poems, letters of support, flowers, etc. from neighborhood residents and people directly involved in this project. In the two weeks, we received over 500 phone calls, and not one was negative."

Mission accomplished.

Article taken from Digital Cinema Report web site with permission.
November 15, 2002

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