Moments Like This Never Last

Q&A with director Cheryl Dunn

Cheryl Dunn’s feature documentary on the late artist Dash Snow, titled Moments Like This Never Last, captures the raw, energetic and self-destructive energy of a troubled artist and the city that moulded him. Set in post-911 NYC, and released during the first year of the Covid 19 crisis, the film is as much a document of an artist gone too soon as it is about a city and community that no longer exist.

Simultaneously dark, uplifting, funny, and inspiring, viewers get an intimate and visceral look into Dash’s life and work. Comprised mainly of Cheryl’s footage, spliced with montages of Dash’s art and photos taken of him by his friends and collaborators, the film never deviates from Dash or his voice for more than five minutes. The weaving of these fragments culminates in a 90 minute experience that invites audiences to spend a brief moment getting to know Dash in what feels like a personal hangout with him and his crew.

WE FOLK: From Everybody Street to Moments Like This Never Last, you are a filmmaker and photographer plugged in to the arts and artists. What is it about these topics that interests you?

CHERYL DUNN: I have always loved art history and New York’s history. I think that supporting your friends making art by going to their shows, and in my case documenting them, is very important. Making things and putting them in the world takes a form of bravery and I always wanted to support that. If and when I want to tell cultural stories of past happenings I know I have the document.

WF: At the time you started creating footage of Dash and his crew, did you have any prior experience with film making and documentaries?

CD: Yes I made my first commissioned film in about 1997, then a film with the skater Mark Gonzales in ’99. But I had always done little experimental films. At that time I was hanging around a lot of graffiti writers in NYC and the West Coast and was just fascinated by the community and the root nature of mark making. So I starting interviewing and shooting graffiti writers to someday make something. Dash was one of them. He was a real special kid and we just started filming a bunch.

WF: What led you to making documentaries?

CD: I love real people, real stories. My stills always have had a lot of motion in them so documentary filmmaking was like breaking that frame and getting to incorporate in one medium the elements that I love — like music, and movement, sound, stills, moving image. It was very exciting.

WF: And what continues to compel you to create films?

CD: Documentaries are finally getting their due. Distributors used to think no one would watch a documentary in a theatre. They did and do. But that is so irrelevant now that theatrical engagement is not a marker for relevance. Budgets are growing and the production value of some documentaries are off the charts. That just enables filmmakers to make better films, with more support. I am attracted to films that put me in the subject's shoes with all of my senses and I try to make films like that. Also I think the medium compels me because it is really hard to do well.

WF: Was making this film different to other films you’ve worked on?

CD: This was different because it was about a community that I was somewhat a part of. So with that comes a lot of baggage; history with people, egos, people being mad if they are not in it, or are in it and they had a certain experience. There was a lot of pressure and drama and it took a long time.

WF: What was the most challenging part of making the film?

CD: I would say the editorial process, we went through many incarnations and many editors, myself included. The budget was pretty small and ran out. So by the end all the little things that needed to get done had to be done by me. Music licensing is a lot of work – it took about a year. Also it’s a pretty sad film. And when you are in the making process you are kind of on auto pilot 'cause you have to get it to the other side. But then when you get to share it with a room full of your friends finally all the intense feelings get to pour out. There is a big release. I remember driving out to the tip of Long Island alone after my first NYC showing with friends and the film's soundtrack, my phone just started playing randomly and I just started crying.

WF: Some of the footage was filmed 20 years ago - has the passage of time altered the way you look back at those moments now?

CD: Yes for sure. Documentary footage only gets better the older it gets. I was very happy that I felt compelled to shoot what I did and take care of the footage and have it at my finger tips to tell this story. I am particularly happy that I shot a lot of protests over the years around city hall in the vicinity of my studio. Rudy Guilliani’s tenure as mayor was rife with police brutality. So to be able to paint a picture of NYC and him at that time for a younger generation with my own footage and show people what a horrible person he was back then and continues to be, was very rewarding.

WF: What do you think a film made 10 years ago about Dash would have felt like compared to the one you made now? It seems like people rush to get stories out nowadays… was the passage of time necessary to tell the story you told?

CD: That is a good question that I have thought about a lot. I always believe that timing is a bit fate like. The film is about a generation of art kids that came up in a post-911 NYC. Those events and the vibe of the city really informed the artists they became and the kind of work they made. Cut to 20 years later and the release of the film comes out in November 2020 deep in the covid crisis – another seismic event that shook the order of things here yet again. People here were very nostalgic for the NYC we loved and lost. So to get to experience this film and the wild nights of the past just seemed to be the right time.

And also Dash was a very polarizing figure. People that knew him adored him. People that didn’t know him personally, only what he symbolized to them, often had disdain for him. When he passed there was a sort of thing going around town where no one talked about it on purpose. It was time to talk about him. People – the ones that survived – could finally deal with their feelings about him and about themselves in relation to those times.

WF: It’s been over a decade since Dash passed away. I read in some of your other interviews that people who didn’t really know Dash were reaching out to you and your circle about making a film about him shortly after he passed away. Why did you decide to wait to make your film, and why now?

CD: I started to write on it in 2011 and look for funding. It can be such a long process and this one was particularly long. You know anyone can make a film about anyone. You don’t need permission but no one could make the film I could make. It is naïve to think you can tell someone’s life story. You can try to tell a story. This is the story I had the ingredients to tell, this is the story that I witnessed and shared with him and our shared city. So someone could come here from France or LA to tell this story but it would be different to the story I could tell from the inside. I hardly licensed much footage, I could tell it with my own eye. I felt that the story needed to be protected and told from the inside, so that is really why I took it on.

WF: What impression do you hope this film leaves on audiences - particularly younger audiences who might not have known about Dash’s life and art?

CD: I hope it inspired kids to move to NYC or anywhere and pursue their creativity. To just follow their impulses and not care what others think. This city has such a long history of that migration and I hope the film just sends a spark of encouragement to go for what you creatively need to say.

WF: Has the process of making this film uncovered any new horizons you are thinking of exploring?

CD: Well, hopefully you learn to make your next film better. I certainly learned a lot from failures and successes with this. I did want to take a break from making another feature, but you can’t control timing, so here I go again. I’m into the next one already. It’s about art and disability, and centres around an art centre in Oakland, CA called Creative Growth that I have been shooting at for about 18 years. So many stories, more relevant and important everyday.

WF: Bonus question – Dash's graffiti tag was 'SACE'. Do you see any of his tags left around the city?

CD: Oh yes. He was a master climber so he got himself up there. Seeing his tags always bring a big smile to my face. Thanks for asking.

Moments Like This Never Last was released in November 2020 and is available to stream on MUBI, YouTube, Apple TV, and Google Play