West New York filmmaker Robert Meyer wanted to capture this "commercial vein of North Hudson County." So he made a very short documentary called "Bergenline."
The film takes a viewer on a tour of the avenue, as daytime patrons from shoppers to employees go about their routines.
"The movie is about Bergenline Avenue, and how alive it is," said Meyer, 29. "It feels like you're passing on Bergenline Avenue and taking the time to stop."
A walk through Bergenline
As the camera strolls down Bergenline, music by some of the Latin community's most renowned talent, such as Mexican musician Marco Antonio Solis, blasts at all volumes from local music stores.
Having grown up in the West New York, Meyer wanted to capture the splendor of his unique hometown. He believes that when you begin to travel outside of West New York and Hudson County, you start to realize how homogenized things are.
He also wants to combat cultural stereotypes.
"My film is an answer to ignorance on some level," said Meyer. "It's saying, slow down a minute; your generalizations are completely invalid, and here's the proof."
Meyer recalls growing up in the area and hearing a lot of racial discrimination, particularly against Latinos. He said he even heard it in his own community.
"There are a lot of people I grew up with in West New York that still talk like this, and I just can't understand it," said Meyer. "All these places you go to, you love, so why are you talking crap?"
Meyer's hope is that his film will help clear stereotypes that have plagued the Latin community for years, much like with any immigrant community that has arrived to the States. He wants viewers to understand that these are hardworking people who have come from all over the world to make a better life for themselves and their families.
"I'm not trying to paint anything in a positive or a negative light," said Meyer. "I'm just trying to shine a light of truth, so that people can then understand the perplexities of this community."
The creation of a film
The film started out as a class project at New Jersey City University. The assignment was to depict a sense of place.
"We could pick anything we wanted," Meyer said. "Bergenline was always the obvious selection for me. I really love the neighborhood."
In order to enhance the realism, Meyer's film is completely filmed in Spanish without subtitles.
"The reason I did this is because we shot it, and while I was editing, I thought, okay, maybe put in some subtitles, but then it dawned upon me - if you were walking on Bergenline Avenue and overheard a conversation [without knowing Spanish], you wouldn't understand it."
Believing the language to be a key component in Bergenline Avenue's character, Meyer left his interviews for the film as they were.
Meyer interviewed store vendors on the avenue and random shoppers in Spanish. He asked them about their experiences on Bergenline Avenue, and about where they were originally from.
"I interviewed four people who ordinarily would just be considered ordinary people on the street," said Meyer. "I sort of take these people and shine the spotlight on them."
The film shows these very different people who are very much part of the community and just going through life on the avenue.
Although a little nervous about how people would feel about being shadowed by a mini-camera crew, to Meyer's surprise, the interviewees were really receptive.
"I didn't know them whatsoever, and to my surprise, people were really into it and happy to do it," said Meyer. "I talked to them and my cinematographer Frank Arostegui did some of the translating for me because my Spanish is pretty good, but [a little shaky]."
Meyer credits the continuous improvement of his film to Arostegui, who also helped him on his first film in 2001.
"He really taught me as much about filmmaking as school," said Meyer.
Honors and accolades
"Bergenline," which was shot last May, has a duration of 2 minutes and 52 seconds. It made its debut at the Urban Image exhibit at the Jersey City Museum on Dec. 9.
Since then, it was entered in the nationally renowned Black Maria Film Festival, where Meyer's film was ranked third place for the Director's Choice Award.
"It's the movies that the directors enjoy and hand-select," said Meyer.
The Black Maria Film Festival is one of the longest continually running short film festivals in the country. It has run around the country from New Jersey to California, and to as far out as Italy.
Meyer, who now lives in East Rutherford, currently substitute teaches at Memorial High School and has aspirations to work with the productions classes of the school including the student-run station Tiger TV. He also wants to help mentor the next generation of filmmakers to come.
As far as any upcoming projects, Meyer is thinking about making a lengthier documentary covering all of Bergenline Avenue, which will delve further into the community and its residents.
"I've really only begun to scratch the surface," said Meyer. "I want to use this as a spring board to continue to educate the people in this community."
The Black Maria Film Festival will be running through the spring, and Meyer's film can be viewed on the festival's website at blackmariafilmfestival.org.
It can also be viewed on Meyer's website at www.westnewyorkpictures.com.
"Bergenline" will be running as part of the Urban Image exhibit at the Jersey City Museum, 350 Montgomery St., until April 2.