The Good News Thrift Shop in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood was the sort of place where you could find anything. Presided over by Edgar Gatto, a native New Yorker who’d come to Maine back in 1991 for a fresh start, the shop was the sort of hole-in-the-wall mainstay city neighborhoods can support, seemingly forever. That’s where Portland documentarian Caroline Losneck first met Gatto, as she was rooting around for – and ultimately found – an old CD player for an audio installation about Portland’s outdoor-living homeless population called “Temporary Homes.” Talking to the outspoken and colorful Gatto gave Losneck the inspiration to film the proprietor, and thus the short documentary “Good News” came into being.
Co-directed with Portland filmmaker and frequent collaborator Christoph Gelfand, “Good News” is a dynamic 12-minute snapshot, not just of the garrulous Gatto as he prepares to shutter his shop for the last time, but of Bayside, a Portland community often singled out in the media for all the wrong reasons. “As residents of Portland, we both felt a bit of a relationship with Edgar as somebody at this particular place and this particular time in the city,” explained Losneck. “Bayside has gotten a lot of attention of late, for homelessness and other problems.” Meeting Gatto, she said, offered the filmmakers a chance to look at this part of the city through the eyes of “a person who had all these opinions from being on the ground, from being there every day.”
The film, which screens as part of the Camden International Film Festival Dirigo Docs roster of short, Maine-made nonfiction films, is a gracefully presented and intimate look at a complicated character whose relationship to his chosen community is as complicated as Bayside itself. Said Losneck, “In some ways, he’s really sensitive in how he relates, for example, to people coming from another country, helping them find a table or a desk. Other times, frankly, he expresses opinions that we find it harder to agree with, which made it an interesting process for us to work through. We ended up talking a lot about how to present somebody who’s a complicated person like us. We wanted to value his experiences at Bayside.” Added Gelfand, “We wanted to show him for who he is, and to try to give as wide a scope of the area as we could.”
Twelve minutes isn’t much time for such ambition, but the best short documentaries tend to open up in the viewer’s mind, the focus on the specific unfolding into something more all-encompassing. “Good News” is, according to Losneck, “a window into Bayside,” and “one chapter in a multiple chapter book we could write.” Mixing deft editing, animation from studio Planet Nutshell (planetnutshell.com) and a running commentary from Gatto, “Good News” is a consistently intriguing and meditative look at life in Portland.
Gelfand adds that it’s through his long and fruitful partnership with Losneck that he feels most fulfilled as an artist. “We get pieces of stories and then kind of fill them out. I laugh every time we wind up in different situations – we’re always looking at each other in recognition of all the funny and interesting people we’ve met over the years of working together. A lot of independent filmmakers think like the lone wolf, but it’s truly a great experience to work off of someone else.”
As for the Good News Thrift Shop, don’t bother looking for it on Portland Street any longer. “It’s a boutique oyster restaurant now,” said Losneck, pointing to the changing dynamic of a Portland neighborhood she says will likely be unrecognizable in 10 years. “The tensions around Edgar were facing a whole neighborhood. The film became about the legacy of a neighborhood in transition, and about how does somebody who lives on the margins cope when he himself gets pushed out.”
“Good News” will screen alongside the rest of the Camden International Film Festival’s Dirigo Docs on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Maine College of Art and on Feb. 27 at Portland’s Apohadion Theater, right in Bayside. For more of the filmmakers’ work, check out Gelfand’s True Life Media (truelifemedia.com) and Losneck’s carolinelosneck.com.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Thursday: “The Silent Revolution.” Part of the PMA’s New German Film Series, this period drama cleaned up at the 2018 Lola Awards (the German Oscars) with its sensitive portrait of a group of schoolchildren organizing a silent protest for victims of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.
Sunday: “Studio 54.” Director Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary chronicles the rise and fall of the infamous NYC nightclub, where celebrity gossip, the sexual revolution and the specter of the AIDS crisis all collided in the club’s 33-month existence.