The empty house of Annette Ontell sits on 306 Hollywood Ave. in Newark, NJ. To her grandchildren, filmmakers Elan and Jonathan Bogarin, the house is a museum full of objects that continue to live after their grandmother dies. “306 Hollywood” is their magical realist documentary, an intimate illustration of Annette’s life and the life of her family.
Upon entering the The Marc theatre for the world premiere of “306 Hollywood” in Park City, audience members were greeted by a sea of grandma Annettes: life-size cardboard cutouts of her smiling face stuck in the cup holder of each seat. A man in the row in front of me muttered, “What a gimmick.” He did not seem amused.
“306 Hollywood” is part documentary, part fantasy, and part ghost story. Before selling their grandmother’s house, the Bogarins decide to turn it into an “archeological dig.” The multitude of objects within are examined and the stories of each are unlocked, beautifully illustrating the fact that a person might be most intimately known by the objects they leave behind. The Bogarins filmed their grandmother every year for 10 years as they asked her meaningful and revealing questions such as, “Do you miss sex?” and “Are you afraid to die?” The film is interlaced with footage of these Q+A’s with grandma Annette and her quirky, elderly anecdotes.
The documentary is groundbreaking because it uses fantastical sequences to give grandmother’s objects new life. In one scene, the dresses Annette sewed by hand and wore in her younger days dance around the front lawn as if they were inhabited by ghosts, led by the graceful hands of ballet dancers. “Catalogs” of the clutter lying around the old house are artfully and meticulously organized into portraits made up of miniature sewing kits, painted china plates, dentures and toothbrushes. The catalogs are organized by the objects of each deceased family member, then by color – beige, pastel pink, emerald green and dusty blue. By incorporating techniques of magical realism in “306 Hollywood,” the Bogarins created an extraordinary tribute to an otherwise ordinary grandmother. It is engaging and visually appealing in ways the traditional documentary is not.
Grandma Annette is courteous and open to the requests her grandchildren make on camera. In one lighthearted scene, she strips down to her skivvies and attempts to squeeze into one of her old dresses. What would she think of the film, knowing that theatres full of people are watching her on the big screen in her underwear? That thousands have witnessed the stacks of paper and clutter on her kitchen counters? I’m not sure. But when the lights came up and I looked once again at Grandma Annette’s cardboard face, I felt like I really knew her.