For hundreds of commuters, it is just another routine trip from the quiet of Staten Island into the frenzy of Manhattan. Some spend the half hour traveling across New York Harbor anxiously waiting, suffering through the boat’s motions and sipping their third cup of coffee while burying their heads in the newspapers. Some attempt a hopeless nap. But not all. A few use up every precious minute of the ride preparing themselves in a very exclusive place: The Staten Island Ferry Powder Room. Ferry Tales is a sneak peek into a culture that only happens 30 minutes a day in the women’s bathroom….a place where no men are allowed. As they put on their make-up, they are transformed from housewives to businesswomen, from mothers to lawyers, from sisters to socialites. The women who step inside this room leave their race, social status and net worth at the door, sharing their most intimate secrets, solving each other’s problems or just dishing up the latest ferry gossip. What starts as funny anecdotes turns into a deep and moving account as these women, one by one, draw each other out, solve one another’s problems and dish up the latest ferry gossip. This is a story of the vibrant life that goes unnoticed in a place that goes ignored.
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What would possess a German-born filmmaker to venture into the mysterious beyond of the forgotten borough of New York City to create a documentary about a women’s bathroom aboard a New York commuter vessel? The answer will be clear after you’ve seen “Ferry Tales”, the latest film by Katja Esson. This 40 minute documentary is a sneak peek into the hearts and minds of the women of the Staten Island Ferry Powder Room. In July of 2001, Katja Esson decided to create a sort of ‘working-girl’ documentary about the women who occupy the ladies bathroom on the ferry each and every morning. Coming up with a concept was simple enough, but trying to gain the confidence of these women and filming them in their element was quite another matter. Then, just as production was getting underway, the tragic events of September 11 happened. At first, Katja felt she would have to scrap the project altogether. Instead, she kept filming. The resulting footage shows just how strong a sense of community exists between the many different women in the powder room. In January 2004 Ferry Tales was nominated as one of three documentaries for the Academy Awards.