The last project Gondry exhibited at Deitch was timed with the release of his film "The Science of Sleep." According to gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, it was a success, and for two years, he has been eagerly awaiting their next collaboration, "Be Kind Rewind."
Deitch explained that the concept evolved from the initial idea of simply creating an old-school video store, "and then, Michel, all of the sudden he just understood ... that it had to involve the audience being invited to make their own films, just like the neighborhood people in Passaic. ... I instantly understood this is what we have to do."
The sets Gondry designed for the public to use at Deitch are interactive and beautiful. The genius of his work is that although the participants are making the movies, the art has already been created and Gondry has figured out a way for adults to feel comfortable in the world of make believe. And he calls Gondry's back-lot creations art.
"He's known for his handmade sets and effects, so what you see in the film is really a version of sculpture," Deitch said. "People love that handcrafted quality, and it's in evidence all over the sets."
Minutes before the exhibition opening Feb. 16, Deitch, dressed in his signature suit and buffalo-horn glasses, surveyed the gallery, suggesting lighting changes. Outside, the line of fans, mostly young artists, stretched the length of the block and onto Canal Street.
"This opening is sort of a phenomenon," Deitch operations manager Meghan Coleman said. "We've had a huge response from the student film community."
It's not surprising that open sets, created by an independent film icon like Gondry, would attract the attention of film students in New York City, but both Gondry and Deitch said they hope that people of all ages, and backgrounds will participate.
"I really want to invite people who have nothing to do with filmmaking," Gondry said.
"Anyone from the street hustlers on Canal Street half a block away to young artists, art collectors, anyone can come in here and make a film," Deitch said.
Although most of the people at the opening Saturday were young New York artists and fans of Gondry's work, there were also families with young children, and a few out-of-towners who got a kick out of the surprise surroundings.
"We thought it was a club because of the line. ... We didn't know whether there was going to be a movie, and we discovered that we were the movie," said B. Raven from Lake Ariel, Pa.
While Gondry said he wants people to focus on the joy of creating a movie and screening it with friends, Deitch acknowledged that many of the young film students at the opening have bigger aspirations.
"Everyone dreams of being discovered with their mini-masterpiece, and maybe that will happen here," Deitch said.
So far, there is no plan to hold a festival or large screening from what the amateurs made. Public viewing of the films will be limited to the video store portion of the gallery, but Deitch suggested that at the end of the exhibition, the footage could be edited together into some sort of compilation.
On the opening night, there were no time slots and no restrictions on where you could go, or how to interact with the sets. People jumped on the bed, swooped through the cafe with trays of glasses, and some dressed in tinfoil costumes, chased each other with large plastic guns. It was an alcohol-free evening as part of a concerted effort to keep the damage to a minimum.