Centre For Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)

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Citizen-Z Cavan Young's 2004 film about the zamboni crisis




"Improvisation" an English summary


My Friends of Colour Improvising Life

"It took me just one afternoon to realise that I was still alive, and that I hadn't forgotten that. Just one afternoon in Harlem, in Riverside Park." The narrator describes how one day she found herself in Riverside Park when a torrential downpour suddenly opened up. Instead of running for cover or hurrying home like most of the people in the park, she decided to stay where she was. She found that many people had stayed despite the rain, delighting in small pleasures and improvising ways of passing the time with what they had. She grabbed her video camera and began recording the scenes that we see in the movie: "Surprising images amidst a vast cement jungle. So close and yet so removed from the grey city landscape. Here, in place of heavy suitcases, there are light-spirited games. Instead of serious debates, jokes and anecdotes. Instead of the same routine, a map open to any destination."

The narration that accompanies the scenes of Riverside Park is a lyrical message for the author's friends in London. "Improvise, my friends, improvise," she says at the end. The text on the screen reads: "What is made by God and what is made by man is all the same."

She says that if you just start to talk, you can play with words and improvise. Itīs like playing jazz, and itīs how the Dominicans live here: "They have set the stage and brought the music, movement, and smells. They aren't foreigners any more, they are part of this landscape, and they have brought invaluable gifts with them: the sun, optimism, the rhythmic sound of their music, their sense of community, their food, and their love of life."

The scenes keep unfolding: "Some are lifted away in the wind, others remain, impervious to the passage of time. It is what happens in places such as these--an ever-shifting reality--that is so important. The freedom to explore and learn; happy moments and a feeling of camaraderie; a relaxed state of mind and a distant look. All of these elements combine to create a whole."

Again, text appears on the screen: "We will not dominate technology as fully as we have dominated the natural world."

The narrator says: "People retreat to the park from the metal and concrete of the city, in search of a place to breathe, to relax, and to return to the place that we come from. We spread out across the grass, it doesn't matter if it's a bit dirty or scruffy, and we become who we really are -- simple creatures.

"People of colour can celebrate life in sunshine or rain. Under the cement girders of an industrial building, or under the trees. For life to be worth living, you don't need to be in any particular place or time. You don't need a resort with a perfect climate and pristine water, you don't need to be far from the pollution and smoke of the city. You don't need the luxuries that money can buy. The people at Riverside are natural. And they live anywhere they can enjoy their freedom."

She says: "New Yorkers in general view Riverside Park as a polluted, unpleasant place. They see that the river is polluted, and they perceive the Dominicans as crude and uncivilized. These 'civilized' people fight to save the environment. But this is a waste of time. It is just a fantasy of power. But it's too late, things are out of our hands. Latin Americans, who have been oppressed by the so-called 'civilized' people for a long time, know that nature is often tragic and cruel, and that we must be grateful for every day that it survives....

"People of colour were brought to America as slaves. They had nothing to do with the destruction of the environment. On the contrary: they were cruelly exploited just as the forests and rivers were. People of colour are not the great heroes of the ecological movement. They eat meat and drink Coca Cola, and play their music on their stereos at full blast. They even swim in the Hudson River.

"It's white people, the so-called 'civilized' people, who try to be clean and natural. They think that they can save the planet, knowing full well that it was them that have destroyed and exploited it. Everything -- iron and wood, even white people's arrogance is natural. That's life. And people of colour live life, love life. They live in the here and now. They don't live inside of dreams or thoughts of what might have been or what could be better. They aren't building boats for the future like white people. White people never come here. They are always absent. "And night falls, as peaceful as the magical afternoon. We all get ready to return to the city, to the concrete, but with calm hearts. I put my umbrella in my bag and I leave with the best gift I have ever received: the simplicity of people of colour. Thank you, my people, thank you. "This is the message I'm sending from Harlem to my friends in London: improvise, my friends, improvise."

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Content last modified on April 22, 2011, at 08:44 PM EST