Susanne Bartsch, mother of NYC nightlife, has a natural skill for recognizing unspoken genius, having first fostered the careers of icons like RuPaul and John Galliano. Therefore, it comes as no surprise she’s tapped one of the city’s most promising directors, Anthony&Alex, to tackle her forthcoming full-length documentary, @Bartschland.
After meeting at her weekly summer party On Top, where the director duo premiered a fashion film, the Swiss-born club pioneer decided her life story would be best captured through their surreal Warholian lens. The pair reveled in how she transformed her party’s Le Bain home into a gallery space packed with over-the-top personalities and decided this collaboration would be a fruitful challenge.
After months of following Bartsch—documenting her Chelsea Hotel home, FIT fashion retrospective and the colorful characters who orbit her world—Anthony&Alex have launched a crowdsourcing Kickstarter campaign to help the project reach its $70k goal. With help from fellow filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, they’ve created a film that challenges documentary conventions, lacing Bartsch’s narrative with just as much fantasy as she’s gifted the world for decades.
We recently caught up with Anthony&Alex to talk about this bubbling beast that if properly executed, could become a New York classic.
What attracted you to Susanne’s story?
Overwhelming curiosity. At first, Susanne’s personalty and world intimidates and stimulates the senses to the point of dizziness. Everything about her is mesmerizing: her personality, the way she works, the people around her—it all makes you need to know more and more and more.
How has your relationship with Susanne grown since you began filming this doc?
There really isn’t a proper adjective to describe our relationship. It’s definitely become personal because she’s let us into her life in so many ways, and we’re learning more and more about her past. We all have a deep respect for one another, and an understanding that we’re all in this together. This Kickstarter campaign and the project as a whole is only going to work if we all work together and deeply trust each other. It’s all about trust and comfort, and we definitely have that with her along with our producers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher Walker.
What would you say has been Susanne’s most important achievement?
There isn’t one important achievement that outshines any other in Susanne’s career. There’s been glorious moments, and she does a lot of charity work—but it really is Susanne as a person where her most incredible achievement and impact can be seen. She doesn’t judge anyone based on what they should be like, she just enables people to be themselves, be interesting, and fuck the status quo. Planting that mindset into anyone’s brain, let alone an artist’s, has a huge impact. It’s one thing to say you’re open minded, and quite another to embrace it entirely and live it.
How are you putting your directorial stamp on this?
We come from a background where mood and tone play a massive role, and that’s going to be really important for this documentary. We also believe in experimentation and that enables us to play with how the information in this film will be presented. For instance, the interviews will take place in various places: while people are getting ready for an event, in the bathroom of a nightclub, in an all black void, in the back seat of taxis. We’ll have a few set up shots that aren’t reenactments, but artistic impressions of what it’s like to be Susanne in Susanne’s world.
We’re also all about collaboration, and by teaming up with the incredibly talented documentarians at No Weather it grounds the project and enables us to get to the heart of Susanne’s life. Also, Liam Finn is an incredible musician and inspiration to us, and one of the first things we did was contact him and ask him to score the film—his first feature. We’ve made several music videos for him, and he’s scored so many of our pieces in the past, so adding him to the team was an important way for us to establish our aesthetic. For us, it’s all about the art of nonfiction.
We wanted to use Kickstarter to help fund this documentary because both Susanne and Kickstarter are all about community. A lot of people have been affected by Susanne, and a lot of people believe in the project and want to see it happen. More than anything else, we want to be able to tell this story our way. We can only do that if we have the freedom to fund the next stages of production ourselves. Susanne isn’t like anyone we know, and we want this documentary to honor that, which takes a lot of independence. The only way we know how to hold on to that independence and get this film made is by asking support from the community who believes in Susanne and what we’re doing.
Talk to me about the special cameos in this doc.
A major part of Susanne’s life is the energy she gets from the people who surround her. These artists and self-expressing individuals give her an incredible amount of strength and passion. She’s always been that way, so of course we need to see the people from past and present. We’re also doing that to explore Susanne Bartsch the institution—her presence in the early days of RuPaul, Zaldy, Marc Jacobs and more have had an impact on all their respective careers. In the same way Sussi Suss, Stella Rose St. Claire, Sateen & Exquisite, Ryan Burke are a part of the scene now and by demonstrating their incredible creative talents, they too could be, and should be, tapped for other work and higher success.
Susanne has created a niche scene, but she’s also simultaneously touched so many different lives in the process. What audience are you hoping to reach through this doc?
This will absolutely be a universal film. It’s not a puff piece on Susanne and the people around her, but a real look at the experience of living life on the fringe as an artist. We feel very passionately that most people crave examples of other people’s lives in order to validate or question their own, and Susanne is the perfect subject to do that. Also, Susanne and all the personalities that surround her are often stereotyped right away, and this film is really going to break that down. Susanne is a person: she’s a mother, an activist, an artist and there is so much abut her life that will resonate with a universal audience. [This] is why when she throws her leg over her head and yells, ‘work that pussy,’ you’re struck with the freedom she feels as a person. That’s a mom and a human rights activist yelling that. There are no rules to living a certain way, and she makes that very clear.
What’re your current plans for releasing @Bartschland?
We plan to submit to festivals in the late fall. That includes Sundance, and we’re especially hopeful for Tribeca since this is such a New York film. However, by far the most important thing to us is that this film is as incredible as we know it can be, regardless of festival deadlines. Kickstarter is so important because we need the funds now to hire an editor, and start working full-time on this project. For us right now we’re completely focused on making a beautiful and complex documentary, and getting the funds to make that happen.
Help @Bartschland reach its $70k goal by donating to Kickstarter.