What it’s really like to live, and love, as a young artist in New York

Director Ivan Olita’s latest film is an homage to the struggle and hope of artists surviving and thriving in the social media age

New York has and always will be the most romanticised city in the world for young artists, the place where Andy WarholJean-Michel Basquiat and Robert Mapplethorpe all found their fame. Their stories of stardom are so fabled, they are inextricable from our understanding of contemporary art. But their success aside, how often do we look at the fact that actually, it was in New York too, trialed and tested by the weight of the city, that these artists met their fateful end?

Director Ivan Olita’s most recent film, Can’t Nobody Else Love You, explores this exact alternate reality through the lens and lives of six far-reaching young artists, including social media artist John Yuyi, and musician Hirakish. “Teens have become so relevant to the political landscape of America, 2018 is their year. ” Olita explains, as he details why the film was made this year. “This is truly fantastic, but what I find is that the politicisation does not generally allow for storytelling aside from the agenda that that is being put forward. ”

What begins as an idolisation of the big smoke, soon takes viewers on a journey through the multifaceted, bleak reality of exactly how it is to live under the weight of a city that never sleeps, unafraid to address dire issues such as isolation, drug addiction, and love and lust. But this is not to say that the film portrays the city negatively: Olita’s sharp visual skill builds a narrative that always pushes a sense of hope through its subjects, just like film’s opening segment that introduces the subjects overlaid by a prayer of hope.  “It was no longer about romanticising a way of life; it became more about reporting the reality of their lives and trying to do it in the most romantic way,” Olita explains. “So when I think about the piece, I think about something real – raw – as its protagonists would say. It’s not comforting to watch, and it should not feel that way.”

“It was no longer about romanticising a way of life; it became more about reporting the reality of their lives and trying to do it in the most romantic way” – Ivan Olita

Since the conception of technology, social media has had a huge impact on the way youth culture in New York thrives and survives. Can’t Nobody Else Love You explores just how things have changed. “The iPhone screens on which these young creatives promote themselves become too often smoking screens,” explains Olita. “The more they master the art of social media, the art of disguise and promotion, the more they want to break out of it. The main question becomes, how to do that when social media is the main communication assets you are given? How can you disrupt a projection with your actual self, and how do you make sure that your actual self makes it into your projected identity? This was not really a problem before social media existed.”

Just as the film celebrates the individual identities of its subjects, Olita pays an homage to the city by making it a leading role in itself. Throughout the film, the city’s avenues, rooftops, and subway stations are doused in mundane lighting to represent the real and raw way in which young artists are literally and metaphorically leave their mark on the city. “New York is obviously the (un)spoken protagonist of the piece. It is where these kids find themselves. Where they want to make it happen. Where they will be eventually tested out against themselves and the world at large. We were less interested in perceiving the city as a geographical place but rather a state of mind. The focus is less about ‘being in NY’, and more about ‘feeling in NY’ and feeling in NY is often times not as easy as it could seem.”