Dustin Guy Defa’s ‘Person to Person’ Is a Voyeuristic Glimpse Into the Lives of New Yorkers

In “Person to Person,” a record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship, and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner. Shot entirely in 16mm, “Person to Person” features an  ensemble cast including Michael Cera, “Broad City’s” Abbi Jacobson, “Casual’s” Michaela Watkins and newcomer Bene Coopersmith.

Dustin Guy Defa, the writer/director of numerous shorts (and one prior feature, “Bad Fever”) that have played the festival circuit, was inspired to create his latest film, “Person to Person,” out of the desire to construct an ensemble, tapestry-like narrative about lives being lived in New York.

“I had made a short film a few years back titled ‘Person to Person’ as well, and that film starred my friend Bene Coopersmith, who has this great screen charisma,” Defa explained. “I wasn’t looking to extend that short, but I did like the title, and I wanted to work with Bene again, while also working with other actors and featuring other characters. I wanted to make an ensemble film in New York that covered a whole spectrum of people.

“What was interesting to me was the idea of an ensemble movie where everything didn’t necessarily connect. The idea of making different movies inside one film, using different tones and totally different people, and trying to make it work. So I pulled together different stories that I thought were going to be different movies. Pulling those disparate threads together – the challenge of that became exciting.”

Though some critics have likened “Person to Person” to a love letter to New York, Defa sees the film as more of a voyeuristic glimpse into human nature.

“I never really thought of it as a love letter to New York. One of the things I love about New York is the interactions you have with strangers every day. When you walk out the door and walk down the street, there’s so much drama and comedy to see. You get to be a voyeur in many ways. Everyone almost feels interconnected in a way although it’s an illusionary thing. I love that you can walk out your door and spend your day just watching a lot of mini-movies just happening on the street and imagining what their lives are like.”

We have all seen little snippets of human drama as we walk around our neighborhoods and there are some incidents that leave a big impression on our psyche. Defa recounted one of those moments.

“One time I saw a walker – a walker that an elderly person might use – just crumbled and crushed in the middle of the street. There were cops everywhere and I don’t think I had seen real detectives before in my life. A car had hit a man and killed him. It was weird to walk by knowing you’re walking by where a person had just died.”

As a native of Salt Lake City, Defa was able to experience the thrill of Sundance long before he was a filmmaker. When his short film, “Family Nightmare” premiered at Sundance in 2011, it was a dream come true for the filmmaker. “Person to Person premiered at this year’s festival. Though he had been to the festival before, it was a different experience this time around.

“Features just get more attention than short films. Being able to share your film with other filmmakers, it’s just so exciting. It can be a stressful place since so much is going on. You just have to try to relax and not get stressed. I love going to screenings and seeing other filmmakers’ movies.”

Defa was asked to describe his film. After some hesitation, he was asked if it was indescribable so people just need to see it for themselves. He laughed and said, “I guess so.”

Person to Person” opens in select theaters July 28.