Nov. 2, 2017 By Nathaly Pesantez
SUNNYSIDE — A “docu-poem” released earlier this year provides a window into Blissville, the name of the forgotten neighborhood wedged between Sunnyside and Greenpoint, now recognized as part of Long Island City.
“Blissville”, the nearly hour-long video by Hank Linhart, a Brooklyn based media artist, shows the daily rhythms of the still-existing, but not as thriving area bordered on the south by Newtown Creek, on the east by Calvary Cemetery, and on the north by the Long Island Expressway, over several decades.
The neighborhood, named after Neziah Bliss, the industrialist (also the namesake to Sunnyside 46th Street – Bliss Street station), first became known to Linhart in the late 80s, after he wandered into the Calvary Cemetery and saw a woman picking mulberries from a tree and eating them.
Linhart tried to talk to the woman, but she ran off and he eventually found himself in a nearby corner store, where the owner had a photograph of a “Blissville Market” hanging on the wall.
“I never heard of it,” Linhart said. “He [the owner] said, ‘Yeah, this is Blissville’.”
The realization inspired Linhart to research the small corner of Queens and attempt to capture the character of the remaining community, incorporated into Long Island City in the late 19th century, through its residents and structures. Moments shown in the video include factory space on 37th Street owned by Wonton Food Inc., the largest fortune cookie manufacturer in the United States, and the Colbar Art facilities on 35th Street known for their Statue of Liberty replicas.
The video also explores a Romani community that existed in the 1930s about a mile away, with footage from a woman who lived in that village until she was 6.
“It’s not a straightforward documentary like most people are used to,” Linhart said. “I spent a lot of time shooting the feeling of Blissville.”
The diverse history of Blissville led Linhart to sift through New York City’s public libraries, archives from Robert Moses, and even circus archives from the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration, which the group of nearby Romani were linked to.
Work on “Blissville” took off in 1989 and was steady until 1996, when Linhart became involved in other projects. The “docu-poem” resumed in 2012, and wrapped up before spring of this year.
Linhart hopes that the visual tableaus of Blissville will inspire people to look at their own lives and communities, and think about what constitutes a community.
“It’s about a complex little community,” Linhart said. “It’s not the most beautiful little place, but it has real community.”
The film, which has been screened in venues since May, will play its last show of the season at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 at the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, located at 524 Main Street on Roosevelt Island.