Documentary filmmaker Choy inspired Kloster brothers’ documentary short
‘Legal Smuggling’ is a quirky, but true tale
January 24, 2017
Sometimes a quirky story can inspire a documentary film.
Take Lewie Kloster's "Legal Smuggling with Christine Choy" for instance. This four-minute animated short is about Academy Award-nominated independent filmmaker Christine Choy, who is known for the 1990 work "The Best Hotel on Skid Row."
Instead of cramming her life story in 240 seconds, Kloster, with the help of his younger brother Noah, focused on one little tale Choy told in passing while teaching a documentary class at New York University.
"Chris would start out every class with bizarre stories," Lewie said during a conference call with Noah to The Park Record. "One day she came to class with her arm in a sling, saying she was pushed down the stairs during Fashion Week and another day, she came into class with a new story about coming back from Toronto because she couldn't find the brand of cigarettes she liked in New York City."
Choy found it was cheaper to buy the cigarettes at a duty free shop after purchasing a round-trip ticket to Toronto from La Guardia, Lewie said.
"Cigarettes are extremely expensive in New York, because of all the taxes," Noah said.
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Still, Choy had to buy six cartons of smokes to make her trip worth the money.
When Lewie heard the story, he approached Choy after class.
"I said, 'This is a story. What do you think?'" he said.
Choy agreed and revealed she had actually filmed a bit of her excursion.
So, Lewie took a look.
"Ironically, the first shots of footage wasn't very good, but my little brother has always been a phenomenal visual artist, so, the the idea that I can film and Noah can draw came up," Lewis said "I told Christine that although we've never animated before, we'd like to take it on."
That was two summers ago.
"It's been a wild ride, and part of the challenge was getting Christine in the voice-over booth," Lewis said. "If you have ever seen her films, she likes to put on characters. I really had to convince her that her normal speaking voice was absolutely enough to carry the film."
Even before the voice overs came into play, Noah, who attends the Pratt Institute, had been working on the animation.
"I had heard stories about Christine before, and I knew she was a large presence in the underground documentary filmmaking world, so, i was kind of intimidated," he said. "But then Lewie sent me a couple of reference photos and I thought this lady wasn't that intimidating and that she would be really fun to draw."
Noah drew Choy's images on his iPad and then took photos of the drawings and sent them to Lewie.
"It was pretty slow until I drew the final photo that we would use to animate Christine and then things picked up from there," Noah said.
The cigarette smuggling is just one of Choy's quirky stories.
"She really has enough stories to fill a feature and fortunately, someone is making one about her right now," Lewie said. "These filmmakers actually reached out to us and will have a camera crew follower her around at Sundance."
Still, Choy likes the ideas of making some expanded shorts with the Kloster brothers.
"Who knows where that will go, but we are using this short as a launching pad to do a series of other 'Legal Smuggling' shorts that will feature other subjects, and not just Chris," Lewie said. "We already interviewed a local artist in our hometown of Minneapolis and we are in the works with a couple of others."
The Kloster brothers agree that working with an independent documentary filmmaker as a subject for their independent documentary film was inspirational.
"First off, I had seen a huge canon of her work in class and it's inspirational that she's an older woman who makes independent films," he said. "I also like that her whole artistic integrity is the pinnacle of her works. She also owns the rights to all of her films."
Noah said he enjoys going to dinner with Choy.
"She just throws out all of these golden nuggets of knowledge," he said. "I feel like I should bring a notepad because she throws them out without evening knowing she's doing it."
Lewie Kloster's short "Legal Smuggling with Christine Choy" will continue its Sundance Film Festival Screening at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre. For tickets and information, visit http://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/program.