A Q&A with Filmshop Breakthrough Series 2017 Featured Artist Horatio Balz...
What was the inspiration for your project?
I ran into T-Berry on 2nd Ave and 12th street sometime in late 2012. He reeled me in with his oversized sign: "The World's Greatest Storyteller". I'm a sucker for hyperbole, so we started chatting and he offered a story. He told me a story called "Shine & the Titanic", a story I recognized in the form of African-American folk recordings and early 20th century jazz songs, but seldomly in the form of a toast. From there I started following him around with a camera taking photos, which eventually led to video.
If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?
I'm not sure if I would do anything differently. In terms of the story -- there was a clear wall that T-Berry had set up. He would let me in and let me hang with him for extended periods of time with my camera, but he would always very much be performing for me. I knew that in order for the film to work, I had to find more intimate, vulnerable moments while at the same time respecting him and how he viewed himself. I guess I wish I would have stayed out with him more often and shot more footage, which ultimately would have meant the trust between us could have been strengthened, which would have led to stronger footage.
How did the Filmshop community contribute to its development?
I workshopped a rough cut of The World's Greatest Storyteller in my Monday North Brooklyn chapter. Getting scenes in front of eyes was incredibly helpful -- especially since the footage had been collecting dust for nearly 4 years. Having weekly check-ins and knowing that I would ultimately have to present to a group of people meant that I had to sift through all my footage to cut something together I wouldn't be embarrassed to show. The community kept me in check and kept me on schedule. For me, there's no better inspiration to get something done than the possibility of failing in front of a room full of people.
What would the New York Times say about your project?
T-Berry's stories are rooted in a rich African-American oral tradition, with some of his toasts dating back to the American Slave Trade and whose influence in the development of hip hop in America's urban centers cannot be understated. I would hope they could look past the vulgar content of T-Berry's toasts to see that he represents a unique voice that straddles tradition and popular culture, as well as an artistic spirit of the city that's quickly vanishing.
I'm submitting "The World's Greatest Storyteller" to film festivals in New York City and the South.