The Manhattan of 30 years ago would be unrecognizable next to the Manhattan of today. Dreaming Walls documents one of the last enclaves of old New York bohemia as it refuses to go gently into that good night. The film focuses on the famous Chelsea Hotel, which is on the verge of a massive (and not entirely welcome) transformation. Developers want to turn the Chelsea into a posh boutique hotel, monetizing the building’s counterculture past. But the aging bohemians, libertine artists, and passionate preservationists who still maintain a permanent address at the Chelsea aren’t going anywhere, even if it means they have to live on a literal construction site.
Directors Maya Duverdier and Amélie van Elmbt shoot Dreaming Walls in a fly-on-the-wall vérité style, using ghostly projections and archival footage to tell the story of the Chelsea’s past. No such embellishment is needed to make the current residents compelling: As fine a group of eccentrics as has ever been assembled, they capture the spirit of New York better than any ad agency ever could. —Liza Domnitz
Amélie van Elmbt studied at the IAD Film School. In 2011, she directed her first feature film, Headfirst. Her second feature The Elephant & The Butterfly premiered at Tribeca. Maya Duverdier holds a master’s degree in film from École cantonale d’art de Lausanne. Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel is her first feature-length documentary.