- Nancy Schwartzman
- 29 years old – "Pisces to the core"
- Filmmaker, Activist, Founder of NYCRapeMap.org, and Creative Director of Heeb Magazine
- Grew-up outside Philly; now lives in Chelsea
You’ve spent the last four years working on your documentary, A Woman Who Went Out. What can you tell us about the project?
This is a film about my trip back to Jerusalem to confront the man who raped me four years ago. I moved to Jerusalem in the year 2000, the last months before the Intifada. Everything interested me about the city; I was filming and following all kinds of characters. That all changed when I was raped. I had left my crazy life in New York for a totally different experience in Jerusalem, and then I was raped. The shock and irony of being raped in “the holy city” added another dimension to the experience. The film I had started didn’t make sense to me anymore, everything had changed. I had so many unanswered questions about that night, I had to go back and talk to him. He wasn’t a stranger, I won’t call the experience date rape either, but he was someone I knew. Last December I went back to Jerusalem, sat across from him and had a conversation. But I didn’t do it alone; I had a hidden camera and microphone! As a rape survivor, I needed to confront him. As a filmmaker I couldn’t let that conversation disappear and fall into “memory,” I had to record it. His identity is protected in the film, but our conversation is at the core of the story.
Because the documentary is so personal, does that make things more difficult or more cathartic?
It feels like there’s more at stake because it is so personal. It’s important that I stay honest. Because I’m telling a complex story and not a dogmatic piece of propaganda I’m letting people make up their own minds. I have to put my own experience on trial and up for judgment to show nuance and take risks, which is a choice I’m making. It’s not cathartic the way screaming or breaking something can be, but going through the process of filming, editing, the confrontation, showing the work, creating my narrative has been really empowering.
Which came first: Nancy the filmmaker or Nancy the activist?
Definitely a filmmaker. That’s how I see things, with a camera in front of my eye and a rectangle to frame the world. The camera is like a protection, something to hide behind when I ask all kinds of nosy questions and go places I don’t belong. I always felt like making art was a form of activism, but I never thought I’d be an “activist,” I thought you had to be really selfless to do that.
From there, you’ve initiated a grassroots project -- NYC-RapeMap.org. What was the impetus behind that?
I’ve been active around issues of violence against women since college and most recently with the work I’ve done on my film. In September, a friend of mine was raped in Williamsburg and she came to me for support. I sat with her for 12 hours at the Brooklyn sex crimes head quarters while she went through line-up after line-up in search of the perpetrator. I had already heard of other attacks via email and friendster and I was getting really upset and overwhelmed. Why didn’t we know more? What could we do about getting around more safely? The www.nyc-rapemap.org idea was a natural off shoot of this concern. As women, we have a sixth sense about how to navigate the city and we should share that information with each other and raise awareness on a community level. The fact that you can go to Citysearch and find a restaurant or a shoe sale, but nowhere online can you get information about how to navigate the city from the perspective of women’s safety is just absurd. It’s time.
What’s its current status? How has the response been? What kind of support are you getting from the community? What can people do to help?
Our website is up and running now! Currently, we are in the first phase of development. You’ll find an online survey for women to fill out about how they get around, and when we get enough information we can start building the “safe routes” map. The community response has been tremendous. We’re starting in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and the next weeks are full of meetings with the Brooklyn Bureau Chief of Sex Crimes, the Transportation Authority, police officers, the folks at RightRides, and other community activists. The site will be multi-lingual to better serve the people of each community, so I’m looking for translators in Polish and Spanish, and women who want to get involved in making their neighborhoods safer places to walk and travel. We will also be communicating with local businesses encouraging them to get involved and put our bright yellow whistle logo in their window to indicate that this business is a haven for women and all pedestrians. This initiative will work in the way the now defunct Safe Haven project worked in the '80s. We’re looking for volunteer web folks, legal council, designers, bike riders, translators, and people willing to help get the word out.
Also on your resume: you’re the creative director and one of the founders of Heeb Magazine. How are things going at the magazine these days? I know you just launched another issue, but there have only been seven issues in the last four years.
Our new issue with the Beastie Boys is great! It’s their first Jew interview and they love it. Heeb is a phenomenon, much more than a magazine. We’re throwing parties and festivals all over Europe and the U.S., things are going really well. We aim to be a quarterly… so we’re only two years behind schedule.
Is it primarily a labor of love for those working on it? What was missing in the marketplace that made you come together to start a potentially controversial magazine, and how has that mission changed over its seven issues?
Heeb is definitely a labor of love. We started out a bunch of kids in a basement in the East Village, sitting around trading ideas and drinking beers. We had never seen our community of outsider Jews reflected in the marketplace, but we knew there were others like us out there. We were relating to magazines like Vice and Giant Robot, but there was nothing Jewish out there for us and our friends. We wanted Heeb to be something for everyone, not just Jews. Heeb is and will always be a DIY effort. The mission hasn’t really changed-we’ve developed tighter production, we have an office, all that stuff, but we’re still trying to shake things up. We realize now that we’re more than a magazine, we’ve created a community.
How do you time your issues and decide on the content and what themes interest you?
We time by the season and the ideas come in an organic way. "The Guilt Issue" was such a natural, let’s face it.
In addition to the magazine, Heeb regularly sponsors events in New York, around the country and even London. The first ever "Heeb Film Festival" starts in London tomorrow (12/16). What is it? How were the films chosen? And why the hell is it in London and not NYC?
What Heeb has been doing since its inception is transforming Jewish iconography. We’ve been steadily building a Jewish aesthetic that combines our grandmother’s living room décor with irony, humor and beauty. We transformed Bubbes into Miami fashionistas, canonized the Jewess, put our spin on (Mel Gibson's) The Passion (of the Christ), and have been wreaking havoc with our advertisements. The London folks very nicely supplied us with free tickets, so off we went. Last year we threw a huge party in Berlin that turned the whole town out. This festival is loosely curated around humor. We’ll be doing something in conjunction with the Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival this spring.
How do these external events like the film festival and "Heeb Storytelling" work into the overall goal of the magazine? Do you see upticks in subscription rates, better brand recognition…?
Sure, the events help get the word out, get people interested in the magazine and the potential of their own communities. Our readership wanted more from us than 80 pages 4 times a year, they wanted us to come to their communities: Kansas City, Dc, Chicago, Boston, L.A., San Francisco, London and Berlin.
Heeb has raised some eyebrows in the past, especially with the “Crimes of Passion” photo spread last February. How did that come about?
Creating the "Crimes of Passion" was my dream come true! I felt very strongly that Heeb had to respond to Mel Gibson’s film and that we had to respond with intelligence, humor and sensuality, and we’d take whatever kind of heat we needed to. Heeb has been an outlet for all kinds of obsessions … to have the opportunity to create a racy and wild Passion story using such amazing performers was such a thrill! The musician who played Jesus cried during the shoot. We are not the first Jewish artists to take on this subject and we won’t be the last.
Today is the last day of Hanukkah. What were you asking for?
Some red rubber rain boots, a trip to Cuba, or a PD 150 camera.
And what was your actual Hanukkah booty?
I got Pixies tickets!
Ten Things to Know About Nancy:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
My emerald green phone chair. It’s from the 1940’s has a shelf for a phone and phone book and I snagged it for $20 on Smith Street.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
I won’t give the exact address, so no one can storm the place, but a certain Salvation Army furnishes all the cute things in my wardrobe.
Personality problem solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
I’ve been in New York for almost 13 years-I’m not sure if it’s the city or the recreational drugs of my early 20’s that have made me neurotic and obsessive. I’m a drama queen, that’s the Chelsea influence, I’m obsessive, and that’s probably the Jew influence … so it’s hard to say.
NYC confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
Shasta Cola performances at Barracuda.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
A nice, dark movie theater so you can never find me!
What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
Well the city shut down those establishments… but going to Stella’s or Cat’s in the glorious former Times Square district, truly a New York experience. I hear Dr. Love moved to the Bronx?
Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
Hmm, I’m sure I’m often an asshole, but I’m not thinking of anything specific. I usually pay for things, don’t hit people, and stand in line…. Maybe when its freezing and those haters cross the street and try and steal your cab-I have gotten into screaming matches.
Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
I would never leave for good, but it happens to me in cycles, every 5 years or so. And then I do end up leaving New York. One year I lived in Paris and one year I was in Jerusalem. Last year it was two wintry New York months spent in sunny Tel Aviv. New York will always be here to make us nuts, it’s not going anywhere, so when its time to make a break, do it!
Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
LIGHT! I’m dying without it. I drink it up anywhere I see it; I’m so starved for it.
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
I can think of a few subway tales, like when the guy sat across from me, whipped out a ball point pen and a lighter and started smoking crack. Or the guy who seated himself next to a neatly stacked pile of donuts and each time the subway doors opened he threw one onto the platform. Both times I pretended not to notice.
For more information about NYC Rape Map, please visit the web site at www.nyc-rapemap.org. The latest issue of Heeb is available at newsstands now. To order individual back issues and subscriptions as well as for more information on Heeb Sponsored events, please visit www.heebmagazine.com. Heeb's next two New York events include another edition of "Heeb Storytelling" at 7 PM on Wednesday 12/22 at Joe's Pub (425 Lafayette Street -- buy tickets early; the last edition sold out in advance) and their own replacement for the annual "Matzo Ball" -- "Christmas Eve: Heeb Underground" on 12/24 from 9 PM-3 AM at Eleven (152 Orchard Street). The First Heeb Film Festival in London begins tomorrow 12/16. Nancy's film A Woman Who Went Out is a work-in-progress documentary, currently in the final stages of production.
-- Interview by Lily Oei and Aaron Dobbs