Literally decades in the making, The Gates chronicles the intricate process of completing the 7,503 saffron-colored gates and fabric panels used in "The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005." Directed by Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Matthew Prinzing, the documentary captures the soaring majesty of the project, along with its impact on thousands of amazed (and occasionally skeptical) witnesses who flocked to snowy Central Park to experience it over the course of 16 days, Feb. 12-27, 2005.
Albert Maysles, the renowned filmmaker and cinematographer who helped pioneer the cinema verite movement in the '60s and '70s with such documentaries as "Gimme Shelter," "Grey Gardens" and "Salesman," was asked by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1979 to film their interactions with city officials and civic groups as they pitched "The Gates." Years of frustration and rejection ended on Jan. 22, 2003, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg enthusiastically approved the project, at no cost to the city. In the press conference that opens the film, Bloomberg justifies the city's change of heart after 24 years, explaining, "We have to reassert the daring and the imaginative spirit that really differentiates New York from any other city in the world."
As they did for previous projects such as "Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1971-95," "The Running Fence Marin and Sonoma Counties, California 1972-76," "The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris 1975-85" and "The Umbrellas, Japan-U.S.A. 1984-91," "The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005" was financed through the sale of preparatory studies, drawings, collages and scale models, plus sales of earlier works from the '50s and '60s. Each of the 7,503 gates was 16 feet tall, and varied in width from five feet, six inches to 18 feet, depending on the varying walkway widths in Central Park. Suspended from the horizontal top part of the vinyl gates, the free-hanging saffron-colored fabric panels came down to approximately seven feet above the ground. The gates were spaced at 12-foot intervals, except where low branches extended above the walkways. On Feb. 27, 2005, when "The Gates" was removed, its materials were industrially recycled.
A love letter to New York City, The Gates chronicles the reactions to the project, which were as varied as the city itself. Voices of disapproval were drowned out by a chorus of enthusiastic supporters, including those who were once skeptical of the project, highlighting director Antonio Ferrera's theory that "people don't like change, then it happens," and people change.
The last portion of the documentary is an elegiac look at "The Gates," set against a backdrop of wind, snow and rain, and accented by the ruminations of a cross-section of onlookers, from foreign tourists to elderly New York City residents, from women with strollers to groups of schoolchildren. Christo and Jeanne-Claude gleefully join the public in traversing Central Park's newly festooned pathways, accepting thanks and enjoying, at long last, the fruits of their imagination. Spanning nearly a quarter-century of effort, "The Gates" touched thousands of lives, and transformed a city's post-9/11 landscape into something new and magical.
The Gates was the closing night film of the 2007 Tribeca International Film Festival. HBO Documentary Films and CVJ present a Maysles Film Production; directed by Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Matthew Prinzing; produced by Antonio Ferrera, Maureen A. Ryan, Vladimir Yavachev; editors, Antonio Ferrera, Matthew Prinzing; directors of cinematography, Albert Maysles and Antonio Ferrera. For HBO: supervising producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
Learn more about Christo and Jeanne-Claude & The Gates.
Learn more about filmmaker Albert Maysles.
Learn more about filmmaker Antonio Ferrera.