Oct 27, 2021
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Front Page, Industry News

Interview with director Billy Corben on his new film, Limelight (Part 1)

By TO411 staff writer Daisy Maclean

When I saw Limelight at Hotdocs this year, it was what I can only term as a beautiful mess. A ring pop diamond in the rough. Hastily finished for the festival and with at least another ten minutes of fat to be trimmed from it, the film chronicles Peter Gatien’s rise from Cornwall, Ontario to dominance of New York City nightlife in the’90s as owner of the legendary hotspots Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium and Club USA, and the drug crackdowns and police pressure in New York’s Rudolph Giuliani era that eventually led to his deportation home to Canada.

But Billy Corben is a pro, as the director behind the globally popular Cocaine Cowboys, and the pot-doc Square Grouper, by the time the film hits theaters this September Limelight, will be part of a well-made trilogy of riveting investigative documentaries about a decade, a culture and its drug of choice. I had a chance to sit down with the funny and incredibly affable director for a few moments to talk about the film, club life, and proper skin care.

“The project came to us by way of Jen Gatien, Peter Gatiens daughter, who is a very accomplished independent producer (Holy Rollers, Chelsea On The Rocks). She had wanted for sometime to produce a documentary about her father’s story and his nightclub empire in New York city – which was not only the largest in the history of New York City but possibly the largest in the world. For any single individual to own that many venues of that size. I mean, the smallest club I think had a capacity of 2500. The tunnel was upwards of 5000, that was like a city block that club. I can’t even imagine the club at the end of the night, how they cleaned it out – how do you get the people out of there? I’ve been in that building! There are so many nooks and crannies, three days later you could find somebody unconscious somewhere that you just didn’t see on Sunday night or Monday morning when you were cleaning out after the Sunday party. It was remarkable.”

He continues, “We really had to immerse ourselves in it any and every way that we could with respect to the archival materials: hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation, going through some of the employee records, newspaper stories, magazine stories and I personally sat and watched hours of raw home video footage from the clubs just to get a sense of it and the scope. Considering what actually went into running a business of this size – with a thousand employees and four separate venues and each of those venues with different doors and different promoters and different requirements with respect to accounting and different flyers. It’s just a remarkable amount of corporate organization that went into it. In addition to as you put it policing venues of this size and the notion that at some point the bar was raised so high for Peter Gatien’s venues that he had to be more strict than a federal prison, literally. He had no trouble when he was in jail being offered drugs from inmates. If they can’t keep it out of the place where you’re strip searched going to and from your bunk all the time, how in the hell were they supposed to effectively eradicate drug use in a night club of that size? Really what it came down to was the decision of the city that they weren’t interested in venues of that size. They just weren’t and they were looking to eradicate them. And what I think was the most eye opening, surprising, disappointing thing was the fashion, the fraction on which the federal government built this case.”

Continued in Part 2 on Thursday.

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Front Page, Industry News

Interview with director Billy Corben on his new film, Limelight (Part 1)

By TO411 staff writer Daisy Maclean

When I saw Limelight at Hotdocs this year, it was what I can only term as a beautiful mess. A ring pop diamond in the rough. Hastily finished for the festival and with at least another ten minutes of fat to be trimmed from it, the film chronicles Peter Gatien’s rise from Cornwall, Ontario to dominance of New York City nightlife in the’90s as owner of the legendary hotspots Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium and Club USA, and the drug crackdowns and police pressure in New York’s Rudolph Giuliani era that eventually led to his deportation home to Canada.

But Billy Corben is a pro, as the director behind the globally popular Cocaine Cowboys, and the pot-doc Square Grouper, by the time the film hits theaters this September Limelight, will be part of a well-made trilogy of riveting investigative documentaries about a decade, a culture and its drug of choice. I had a chance to sit down with the funny and incredibly affable director for a few moments to talk about the film, club life, and proper skin care.

“The project came to us by way of Jen Gatien, Peter Gatiens daughter, who is a very accomplished independent producer (Holy Rollers, Chelsea On The Rocks). She had wanted for sometime to produce a documentary about her father’s story and his nightclub empire in New York city – which was not only the largest in the history of New York City but possibly the largest in the world. For any single individual to own that many venues of that size. I mean, the smallest club I think had a capacity of 2500. The tunnel was upwards of 5000, that was like a city block that club. I can’t even imagine the club at the end of the night, how they cleaned it out – how do you get the people out of there? I’ve been in that building! There are so many nooks and crannies, three days later you could find somebody unconscious somewhere that you just didn’t see on Sunday night or Monday morning when you were cleaning out after the Sunday party. It was remarkable.”

He continues, “We really had to immerse ourselves in it any and every way that we could with respect to the archival materials: hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation, going through some of the employee records, newspaper stories, magazine stories and I personally sat and watched hours of raw home video footage from the clubs just to get a sense of it and the scope. Considering what actually went into running a business of this size – with a thousand employees and four separate venues and each of those venues with different doors and different promoters and different requirements with respect to accounting and different flyers. It’s just a remarkable amount of corporate organization that went into it. In addition to as you put it policing venues of this size and the notion that at some point the bar was raised so high for Peter Gatien’s venues that he had to be more strict than a federal prison, literally. He had no trouble when he was in jail being offered drugs from inmates. If they can’t keep it out of the place where you’re strip searched going to and from your bunk all the time, how in the hell were they supposed to effectively eradicate drug use in a night club of that size? Really what it came down to was the decision of the city that they weren’t interested in venues of that size. They just weren’t and they were looking to eradicate them. And what I think was the most eye opening, surprising, disappointing thing was the fashion, the fraction on which the federal government built this case.”

Continued in Part 2 on Thursday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Front Page, Industry News

Interview with director Billy Corben on his new film, Limelight (Part 1)

By TO411 staff writer Daisy Maclean

When I saw Limelight at Hotdocs this year, it was what I can only term as a beautiful mess. A ring pop diamond in the rough. Hastily finished for the festival and with at least another ten minutes of fat to be trimmed from it, the film chronicles Peter Gatien’s rise from Cornwall, Ontario to dominance of New York City nightlife in the’90s as owner of the legendary hotspots Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium and Club USA, and the drug crackdowns and police pressure in New York’s Rudolph Giuliani era that eventually led to his deportation home to Canada.

But Billy Corben is a pro, as the director behind the globally popular Cocaine Cowboys, and the pot-doc Square Grouper, by the time the film hits theaters this September Limelight, will be part of a well-made trilogy of riveting investigative documentaries about a decade, a culture and its drug of choice. I had a chance to sit down with the funny and incredibly affable director for a few moments to talk about the film, club life, and proper skin care.

“The project came to us by way of Jen Gatien, Peter Gatiens daughter, who is a very accomplished independent producer (Holy Rollers, Chelsea On The Rocks). She had wanted for sometime to produce a documentary about her father’s story and his nightclub empire in New York city – which was not only the largest in the history of New York City but possibly the largest in the world. For any single individual to own that many venues of that size. I mean, the smallest club I think had a capacity of 2500. The tunnel was upwards of 5000, that was like a city block that club. I can’t even imagine the club at the end of the night, how they cleaned it out – how do you get the people out of there? I’ve been in that building! There are so many nooks and crannies, three days later you could find somebody unconscious somewhere that you just didn’t see on Sunday night or Monday morning when you were cleaning out after the Sunday party. It was remarkable.”

He continues, “We really had to immerse ourselves in it any and every way that we could with respect to the archival materials: hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation, going through some of the employee records, newspaper stories, magazine stories and I personally sat and watched hours of raw home video footage from the clubs just to get a sense of it and the scope. Considering what actually went into running a business of this size – with a thousand employees and four separate venues and each of those venues with different doors and different promoters and different requirements with respect to accounting and different flyers. It’s just a remarkable amount of corporate organization that went into it. In addition to as you put it policing venues of this size and the notion that at some point the bar was raised so high for Peter Gatien’s venues that he had to be more strict than a federal prison, literally. He had no trouble when he was in jail being offered drugs from inmates. If they can’t keep it out of the place where you’re strip searched going to and from your bunk all the time, how in the hell were they supposed to effectively eradicate drug use in a night club of that size? Really what it came down to was the decision of the city that they weren’t interested in venues of that size. They just weren’t and they were looking to eradicate them. And what I think was the most eye opening, surprising, disappointing thing was the fashion, the fraction on which the federal government built this case.”

Continued in Part 2 on Thursday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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