As I began to write the script, I found it impossible not to ruminate over the experiences I was going through at that time. I had to deal with several instances of death within the span of a few short months in 2013. I became acutely aware of the ephemeral nature of my own life and the fact that our collective existence is comprised of a continuous cycle of life and death. This led me to have a newfound realization that I am but a temporary tenant in this world, and what connects me to humanity and my surroundings are the elements of life that transcend time. To illustrate this interconnectedness, I established two different stories in the film, the fictional narrative and the factual history of the house. The building becomes not merely a backdrop of the story but a metaphysical space where these two stories collide. A man and a young girl find themselves crossing paths one night in the empty house and during their brief stay, the space bears witness to their lives colliding at a time when they both desperately need human bonding. I borrowed real-life objects, using Bio’s belongings as the only catalyst for their connection. One of the objects is Bio’s lone piano in the living room, which the two characters play at the final moment of the film and share a brief but beautiful moment together. After they depart, the transient fictional world is finished and the space is empty again. The history of the house is all that remains. It has collected numerous stories from previous tenants, now including that of the fictional characters of the film, and it will continue to wait patiently for the next tenants, whoever they may be.
One afternoon in November 2013, I ran into my neighbor Schellie, the landlady of an old house in Brooklyn. After a brief chat, she kindly invited me in for a tour of the house, which had been empty for nearly a decade. Schellie told me about the previous tenant, a woman nicknamed Bio, who had spent 90 years of her life in the house. Upon taking over the house, Schellie had meticulously tried to keep traces of Bio as intact as possible, salvaging everything from a nearly-100-year-old doodle Bio had drawn on a window to small gadgets and records left in the basement. As I walked through the space, I felt myself invited more deeply into the history of the residence and a magical sensation overwhelmed me, as though I were experiencing Bio’s presence. It was so powerful that I couldn’t resist asking Schellie for permission to shoot a film in the house, though I had no particular project in mind. After the tour, we continued our conversation and Schellie made a half-sighed statement that stuck with me.
“Houses always outlive the people who live in them”, she said. This has been the main inspiration for the making of Tenants.
2014. 27 mins.
Director, Writer, Cinematographer, Editor - Brian Oh
Cast - Christopher Domig, Mantis Harper
Sound - Zachary Bishop
Music - Christopher Domig
A pianist pays a lone visit to the empty house where he and his wife had planned to move in together. While playing a song on the piano that stirs up his haunting memories, he encounters a squatter, a teenage girl. Before he takes the girl back home, however, she asks him to teach her how to play the song.