Bookseller Documentary, 'BookWars' Comes to More Platforms - Watch INSTANTLY
About the Bookseller Documentary, BookWars
BookWars is a New York bookseller documentary by Jason Rosette produced by Camerado, about the life and times of New York City street booksellers. Made on an ultra-low budget in a jazzy, impressionistic style reminiscent of the films of Robert Frank and poetry of the Beat Generation, BookWars is the only first-person documentary made during then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's controversial "Quality of Life" campaign, which sought to limit and control individuals engaged in informal economic activities on the streets of New York City.
BookWars was released in June 2000, winning the Best Documentary Award at the 2000 New York Underground Film Festival and premiering theatrically at New York's Cinema Village. Despite its minuscule budget (estimated at $10,000, prerelease) BookWars enjoyed numerous domestic and international TV sales and has to date generated revenue of several hundred thousand dollars.
"BookWars is: The gritty, untamed world of street booksellers, exposed in a remarkable feature film that chronicles their lives and loves and their unique perspectives on life. Shot entirely on location by fellow street bookseller and filmmaker Jason Rosette, and produced by James and John Montoya, Alan Fulford and filmmaker Michel Negroponte, BookWars explores the other side of the book tables that line the streets of New York City’s Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, 6th avenue, and elsewhere in New York City."
BookWars is a creative documentary which is told in an unconventional, narrative style. The film opens with the narrator (who is also the film's director) driving out West along a desert highway, relating to the audience his previous experiences as a streetside bookseller in New York City. The entire documentary – including the central events involving his experiences among the street booksellers in New York – is thus "told" as a long conversation.
The narrator describes his post-graduation years in New York, and how he ended up at one point virtually penniless. Driven by a desperate need to pay the rent, he resorts to wheeling his own books out to the street to try to sell them. He reveals that he was not only successful in making a significant amount of cash on that first day, but he has also met a variety of interesting and strange characters of the streets of New York – including other street booksellers.
A motley assortment of street booksellers on West 4th street, in Greenwich Village, New York City, are first introduced. Among them: “Slick” Rick Sherman, a semi-professional magician; Al Mappo, so named because he only sells maps and atlases; Emil, who says only he "escaped”, though we do not know from where; and Pete Whitney: King of the booksellers, toad collector, and collage artist.
BookWars next introduces another group of street booksellers who hawk their trade on nearby 6th Avenue. Mainly black and minority individuals, they ply books and magazines in parallel fashion to the nearby West 4th street booksellers, who are primarily white. The booksellers on 6th Avenue suffer greater exposure to the law, with many claiming this to be due to racial profiling.
Some of the significant personalities that are introduced on 6th Avenue include: Marvin, always wearing his trademark black hat; and Ron, from Jamaica – charismatic, streetwise and outspoken.
After the introduction of the primary characters (including the narrator bookseller himself), BookWars discusses, mainly through informal testimony, the various aspects of the street bookseller's life in chapter-by-chapter fashion.
The tools and tricks of the street bookseller's trade are revealed: ways and techniques to maximize income; how to deal with difficult, and sometimes dangerous customers; where and how to get more books; how the booksellers have a right to distribute literature (commercially or otherwise) in public, as per the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; and so on.
BookWars is structured as a “year in the life” style movie, although it was actually produced over several seasons, from 1995 to 1999. When Winter comes, and the streets are too snow-filled and cold to hawk books, the booksellers are shown in their various off-season modes and occupations. “Slick” Rick performs card and magic tricks at parties; Pete Whitney grooms cats for old ladies; and the narrator heads out to New Mexico to work on a Western*.
(*Which was actually the movie The Desperate Trail IMDB)
Marv and Ron, however, continue to sell books throughout the winter on busy 6th Avenue, and the film follows them as they scour for books and pornographic magazines in the trash in Soho.
Finally, Spring comes, and the booksellers emerge from their off-season to sell books as usual for another season – or so they think. BookWars proceeds to reveal the street-level effects of then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s controversial “Quality of Life” campaign, which sought to remove informal, unregistered entrepreneurs and other individuals from the streets of New York City.
The NYPD begins to enforce obscure technicalities which govern the uses and dimensions of the sidewalks, thereby making it more difficult to earn a livelihood. A new tax identification number requirement is introduced, creating bureaucratic obstacles, especially for those street booksellers who are marginal or virtually homeless. Nearby New York University unlawfully places imposing, massive planters on the sidewalk in an attempt to drive the street booksellers away; and finally, especially on 6th Avenue where the majority of black street booksellers are active, the NYPD comes to haul away books.
The street booksellers resist and assemble to form an unlikely common front to protest against the actions of the city. Others, who have had their books confiscated, wait for hours at the police station to get them back. Still others, like Ron, rail against the futility of the city's efforts to stop New Yorkers from reading, because of their virtual addiction to books.
In the end, the street booksellers stand their ground against the Mayor, and are able to continue selling with minor adjustments to their way of life.
In the closing moments of BookWars, the narrator admits that after all the recent problems with the city, he has grown restless; he realizes that he wants to do something different, and wants to change his occupation at last. A single massive rainstorm is enough to convince him to give up his street bookselling activities.
He sells the last of his books off to his fellow street booksellers, and heads out West, on a cross-country road trip, with the audience in the passenger seat sharing the ride.