Directed by Elle Ginter and Stephania Dulowski, Excelsior #EverUpward is a three-minute film that is the culmination of numerous sleepless nights spent driving through NYC at the height of the quarantine. The film was created in an effort to positively reflect, move forward and highlight what New Yorkers miss most at the center of self-isolation. The film encapsulates the themes surrounding their week: “We miss you. We love you. We’re thinking of you,” heard in countless phone calls, Zooms, FaceTimes, and Governor Cuomo’s address to NYC.
Both NYC-based Stephania Dulowski, an editor at Exile Edit, and Elle Ginter, a director at Sanctuary, felt their worlds and schedules abruptly halt in mid-March, along with millions of others in NYC.
Ginter explains: “It felt like overnight everything in NYC shut down. I left for a weekend post-shoot, and when I returned on Monday morning, New York was quiet. Stephania and I chose to stay, and as we did a run together every day, found ourselves noticing so many interesting characters — policemen in parks situated in clear tents, or neighbors who actually started speaking to each other. It wasn’t the NYC we knew, and the landscape was changing quickly and drastically.”
Ginter and Dulowski decided to film every night, driving around an empty Manhattan and shooting on their phones through the window, occasionally getting out and distantly chatting with strangers.
Ginter describes, “It was surreal — I have always been inspired by reading about Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling’s process pre-Drive. They drove for hours together at night, exploring Ryan’s character and getting into a mindset. We felt the same. We wanted to have a finger on the pulse of NYC and see what came of it. We didn’t necessarily mean to make a film until about halfway in. I mean, we were using our phones.”
“There were a few nights that we felt a communal spirit as we connected with strangers on the streets of NYC and a few really grim, heavy nights. One night in particular, the morgue trucks had just landed at a hospital ten minutes away from me, which we heard in the media that this was happening. But it wasn’t until we saw it in front of us that we suddenly felt the scope of this pandemic was very real,” reflects Dulowski. “We’ve included these shots in our film to show the severity of the crisis here. New Yorkers spend most of their time in its streets, and this crisis is happening all over the streets of New York – you can’t ignore it.“
For five nights after, NYC’s death toll continued to rise and sirens became 24/7 white noise as Ginter and Dulowski began to edit and continued filming. It became a pacing mechanism of sorts, especially for Dulowski, who would cut remotely for Exile Edit to the sirens most of each day. When it came to designing the sound for the film, Ginter and Dulowski decided to overlap voice and audio elements, building the same soundbath of sirens it felt as if they were driving through.