A Slow Guide to Brooklyn, with Emily May Jampel

Emily May Jampel in her apartment

The Hawai‘i-raised filmmaker cleaves to public parks, indie bookstores, and art-house theaters to find slices of stillness and sanity in New York City.

Images by Brandyn Liu

The filmmaker Emily May Jampel loves a good park. “Part of the reason I live in my questionably unhealthy-for-my-life apartment is because it’s super close to one,” she says of Prospect Park, the urban green space that is home to Brooklyn’s only lake. For the Honolulu-born writer-director, this proximity to nature is a necessary housing requirement that’s only grown in its urgency the longer she’s lived away from the islands. “In the past few years, especially as I’ve been going home more often I’ve learned that in order to literally survive in New York, I need to see and be around nature at least once a day,” she says, “or I kind of lose my mind.”

In 2022, Jampel released Lucky Fish, a short film that wades in the gentle waters of teenage angst, instant friendships, and sapphic desire, and has become a calling card for the emerging artist. Currently, she is working on a new short titled Mānoa Valley. She is also the recent recipient of the 2023 New Voices Filmmaker Grant from Netflix and NewFest, the largest LGBTQ film and media organization in New York. Jampel, 28, shares some of the daily routines she upholds to keep her creativity flowing in her adopted home.

I need time to do mental deep dives. I’m not great at being so structured or disciplined with creating work. I try to leave pockets of time and space to just mull over ideas.

MORNING SOLITUDE  This is the only apartment I’ve ever lived alone in and it’s in a kinda suburban part of New York. I don’t host things, I really spend a lot of solo time here, which is part of my morning routine. Despite the chain-smoking from my landlord and that it’s an old place with an oven that has been broken since I moved in, it’s really a very quiet and very private space. 

I start the day early. My body automatically wakes itself up at 6 or 7 a.m. Every morning, no matter what time I go sleep. I like having this period of two to three hours just totally for myself. That’s when I’ll make myself coffee, answer emails, try to get a little bit of writing done before people are awake and starting to text me. I think I’m someone who needs a lot of alone time generally, especially for creativity and ideas. I need a lot of time to really do mental deep dives. I’m not great at being so structured or disciplined with creating work. I try to leave pockets of time and space to just mull over ideas. When I live with other people, it’s very fun, but my brain is always occupied by the day-to-day, and I feel that the way I come up with ideas and the speed at which my ideas come together coherently, it happens quite slowly and more organically.

a person eating food at a table
Places of community and discovery fare well for Jampel’s practice. Above, at Acre, a chic venue for lunch meetings.
On Dashwood Books, above, she says, “I always stumble upon new things there.”

FILTERING THE SILENCE  I almost nonstop have something playing as background noise. In order for me to be productive I feel like there needs to be this perfect balance between just enough noise, but not too much noise so that it’s distracting. But if it’s too silent and sterile, I almost get really antsy and I feel like there needs to be something going on. So it’s either music from the same three Spotify playlists I rotate or a podcast that I have going. I like the music to be very low key. I listen to Marc Maron’s podcast quite religiously. I find that when you listen to certain podcasts, if someone has a very familiar voice, it’s kind of comforting.

SURVIVAL ZONE  I’m obsessed with Prospect Park. It’s is this huge park in Brooklyn that actually feels like one. Central Park is obviously huge too, but feels more man-made. I’ve never been the most outdoors-y or athletic person, but I just need that, even if it’s very brief. If you walk 15 minutes through Prospect Park, you can take a trail and not be able to see evidence of the city. There’s a lake there that I love sitting by to read or take naps. 

I love it so much. It’s just a park, but I feel like it’s been a big part of maintaining my sanity in the city.

GETTING UNSTUCK  If I have a stretch of 30 minutes in the morning, I’ll always get coffee and do a quick stroll, or at the end of the day, do a quick decompression loop around Prospect Park, riding the bike lanes. I’m not even that good at biking, it’s kind of embarrassing how unathletic I am. But riding the e-bikes is not really exercise or exhausting at all, it’s more just gliding and relaxing. I get so many ideas or able to process things while biking around and listening to music. When I was working on my short film that we shot in Hawaiʻi, I got so much writer’s block and stuck so many times, so I would just listen to the playlist I made for the movie and bike around Prospect Park. So many of my script problems were solved on a bike.

a person standing at a bar
Mood Ring, an astrology-themed, queer bar in Bushwick, is among Jampel’s favorite nightcap spots.

COMFORT FOOD  Acre is this really cute Japanese cafe in Greenpoint. I almost always have their miso salmon bento and a barley tea. I’m not normally a sandwich person, but their egg salad sandwich on a brioche bun is incredible. I don’t eat a lot of Japanese food in the city because I feel like most of it is either really bad and not Hawaiʻi standards, where we have pretty good Japanese food, so maybe I’m a little bit of a snob there. Or you have to pay a lot for what is just okay. Acre is a solid lunch spot though. It kind of feels like a small cafeteria designed by Muji. My dad grew up in Tokyo, and when he moved back there for work I would go visit him, and it does remind me of a spot that could be in that city.

They have the best programming, both in terms of newer films and art-house classics. Other venues are usually very American and European heavy, but I like that they have a lot of really cool, older Asian films, too. Their curation is incredible and super international. A lot of the stuff I go to are because they are movies I’ve already seen, but never in a theater. They’ll have prints so you can see the film on 35mm. Recently, I saw Blue Valentine and Lost in Translation there. Every Christmas, they screen Carol, which is so beautifully shot and one of my favorites, on 35, or Mildred Pierce on Mother’s Day. Those are films so many people have seen, but they feel like completely different movies because you’re seeing it on a print in a theater with an audience, the way it felt like when it first came out. Overall, my moviegoing is pretty chaotic and impulsive. I’ll also just walk into screenings for things I’ve never heard of because I trust their programming and I’ve never been disappointed. The most recent I randomly walked into that I had never heard of was a movie called Made in Hong Kong directed by Fruit Chan and it was incredible.

NIGHTCAP  One of my favorite bars in the city is a really awesome astrology-themed, queer bar called Mood Ring. They have screenings and comedy nights and DJ sets. It’s a trendy Bushwick spot, but it’s also incredibly sincere. The owners, Vanessa Li and Bowen Goh, are also friends of mine and really lovely people. I have a lot of room in my heart for it because it opened up right around the time I graduated from college, so I got to see it start fresh and grow, shift, and change in so many ways over time while living here. I also had my Lucky Fish release party there, which was so fun. It’s just good vibes.

I like doing lunch meetings or coffee with friends there. There’s a lot of space and a backyard area where young, cool, Greenpoint creatives seem to frequent, but also a place for families also. The menu is super good and not crazy expensive. The way they make the food is very calming too. 

Emily May Jampel standing in front of a display of candy
The art-house theater Metrograph was Jampel’s first paid job after graduating from NYU, where she saw many formative screenings early in her career.

SPONTANEITY & INSPIRATION  I love looking at physical photo books. Dashwood Books is an independent bookstore and they specialize primarily in art and photography books. They even have a little shelf inside with tiny, little handmade zines that you can just sift through. The manager is there all the time and I always overhear her finding obscure titles for longtime customers. I always stumble upon new things there, which I feel like doesn’t happen very often since the way most people find photography now is through Instagram where things kind of look the same. It’s the same way with how I discover new music through Spotify, it’s giving me the same versions of stuff I already listen to. So, it feels nice to visit a place and discover work in a more spontaneous way without an algorithm. The most recent photo book I happened upon there was by Lin Zhipeng. I know people describe having a similar childhood experience with record stores. I’ve never had that, but I feel like this feels very special in that way.

NOW PLAYING  Metrograph is my favorite art-house theater in the whole city. It’s been very influential to me. Their box office was my first paid job after I graduated from NYU. I worked there for a summer, checking people out and selling tickets. As employees, we got to see whatever we wanted for free and got a lot of my film education there, just watching stuff constantly. So many formative screenings, and years before I even began working in film or thought I wanted to be a filmmaker. I remember they had an Ozu series and seeing every single Ozu back to back on a big screen, Belle de Jour, Robert Altman’s Three Women

Emily May Jampel sitting in a bookstore in New York


64 Meserole Ave., Brooklyn

Dashwood Books
33 Bond St., New York

7 Ludlow St., New York

Mood Ring
1260 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn

Prospect Park

Jampel is one of the 2023 Recipients of The New Voices Filmmaker Grant, a new initiative from NewFest in partnership with Netflix. Learn more at emilymayjampel.com.

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