Preparing to be surprised in New York City

The way that New York City has become home to millions of wildly diverse people over the past century is explored in the documentary/essay film “Home,” a collaboration between the Irish immigrant writer Alan Cooke and native born director Dawn Scibilia.
The film was shown on Channel 13 on St. Patrick’s Day and has been screened around the city for the past several months, but I just caught up with “Home” on the recently released DVD version.
It’s a beautiful study of the way each person sees the city in a slightly different light. Cooke gives us his own account of coming to New York a few years ago, falling in love with an American woman, and deciding to start a new life there.
In his attempt to figure out what makes New York so alluring despite its many challenges, Cooke interviewed a great gallery of writers and actors, including Pete Hamill, Fran Lebowitz, Susan Sarandon and Rosie Perez.
Cooke also sat down for terrific chats with two fellow Irishmen who now call Manhattan home — Frank and Malachi McCourt.
Scibilia did the camerawork on “Home” as well the direction; one of the greatest strengths of the film are the gorgeous shots of the city at all hours of the day and night. Ken Burns has called the movie “a visual poem” and that’s an apt way of describing the mix of urban images and the smart commentary.
Hamill tells Cooke that he thinks it is impossible to truly “know” New York because it is always changing. Nostalgia plays a big role in the life of almost any New Yorker, Hamill says, because people and places keep changing from era to era. What New Yorker of the 1980s would ever imagine a skyline without the World Trade Center? But a New Yorker of the 1950s would be just as shocked by the absence of the original Penn Station on West 34th Street.
“Prepare to be surprised,” is Hamill’s advice to Cooke on living in the city.
Sarandon talks about the surprises you can find on any walk in the city and the weird way you can run into people you know anywhere you go in Manhattan.
“If you’re in L.A. and you run into somebody, you’ve been in a car accident,” the actress says, with a grin.
(For more information on “Home” visit the film’s website at