The Metropolitan Diary is published every Sunday morning by the New York Times, a collection of short stories about city life submitted by readers that capture the wonder and serendipity of living in New York City. During a recent interview, filmmaker Charlie Kaufman said, "I love the Metropolitan Diary. It's my favorite thing on Sunday to read."
Kaufman's latest film, 'Jackals & Fireflies,' evokes the same feeling as the Metropolitan Diary. Shot entirely on a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra by cinematographer Chayse Irvin (part of the company's #withGalaxy campaign), the film reunites Kaufman with poet Eva H.D., who was used in his 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things.'
H.D. used her own poem to create the script, and she plays the unnamed narrator in the film. The short follows "a woman who wanders the streets of New York City, takes buses and trains, sits in pubs and coffee shops, while contemplating her life, her loneliness, and unrequited love."
'I'm starting to listen to people's conversations that I'm passing on the street,' Kaufman said.
Kaufman reacted as expected when I mentioned that the short made me think, strangely enough, about various stories (some of them started by viral tweets, others backed by actual science).
"I have an internal monologue," he said. "A lot of my internal monologue, unfortunately for me, blocks out the world, because if I have things that I'm obsessing over or have anxieties about, that takes over my thoughts and closes the world to me often. But when I can break out of that, and I do try to, it's a much greater experience of the world that I have at those moments."
Kaufman and H.D. met while completing artist residency at MacDowell in New Hampshire (Kaufman was working on his novel, while H.D. was working on a new poetry manuscript). Their connection was quick, and Kaufman says they remain "very close" to this day. When he saw "bonedog," he knew it was a good fit for "I'm Thinking of Ending Things," and H.D. granted him permission to use it in a Netflix feature (Jessie Buckley
"Jackals & Fireflies" emerged after the experience became enjoyable. "I thought she had composed this poem and recorded it, and my friend Brian Kobayakawa, who scores it, played it, and I heard it," Kaufman said.
And, no, the film wasn't exactly a secret, as they shot around New York City and Toronto, and despite having a small crew, it was quite obvious to anyone who saw it, although Kaufman laughed when asked if anyone recognized him during the shoot.
Kaufman said, "We made it under the radar." "We weren't hiding it from anyone, but there wasn't any publicity machine working with us. We were just trying to make it." I don't think as many people recognize me as you might expect. "We were kind of making it by the seat of our pants."
H.D. observes various New Yorkers going about their day, talking to friends or on the phone, and weaves what they're saying into her own running monologue. Kaufman said that potential stars were asked very specific questions when they were casting: "what's your favorite pizza?" or "what's your most New York experience?"
"They were fantastic and so natural and interesting and quirky, and it was exciting," he said. "They came to the set that day, and they did the line." They often had an earpiece so that they could hear the poem's recitation, which we recorded before we shot, along with the poem's narration.
Kaufman said he wasn't sure what the audience might expect from the short on Thursday night. "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" will be presented at New York City's IFC Center.
Kaufman sounded to have come to a different conclusion less than an hour later, sending me an email with fresh insights on what viewers may discover when viewing the two films in tandem.
Kaufman wrote that one is about a lone woman in the world; the other is about an isolated man. The man's experience in 'ITOET' is one of rural isolation, while the woman's experience in 'J&F' is one of urban community.' It is true that men age more, and women form communities.
"The idealized woman in 'ITOET' is an attempt by the male character to make the world bite-sized, controllable, and consumable. This documentation of others is a form of honor and remembrance,whereas the janitor, who is not interested in seeing people as they are because that is beyond his control in that, has difficulty remembering the real world and conflates them with readings and films."
Kaufman expects the IFC event to lead to other screenings of his work at the theater. He mentioned that his John Hawkes-starring FX pilot "How and Why," which the network passed on in 2014, might also be shown there (FX recently granted him permission to screen it, and said).
Kaufman replied, "I don't have anything. I'm going to send it out at some point, I guess, and check if we can get it set up." Also, I'm working on a second novel, and it's on his schedule.
Kaufman's latest film, "Jackals & Fireflies," is now available exclusively on IndieWire.