ELLIS awakens our collective memory, taking you back to the early years of Ellis Island through the experience of one immigrant.
Set in the abandoned Ellis Island Hospital complex and using JR’s UNFRAMED art installations, ELLIS tells the forgotten story of the immigrants who built America. It is the story of the ghosts of our countries past, the individuals who fled poverty, discrimination, and dictatorships, for a chance at a new life and eerily foreshadows the plight of those who currently seek the same opportunities and safety in this country and other parts of the world.
The short narrative film stars Academy Award® Winner Robert De Niro, is written by Academy Award® winner Eric Roth, and is directed by the artist JR.
Directed by acclaimed artist JR, ELLIS tells the story of one such migrant. Starring Robert De Niro, the film winds its way through the crumbling hallways of the abandoned Ellis Island hospital complex, now home to JR’s Unframed art installation. It’s a place that reverberates with the hopes and fears of those who passed through it, the echoes especially resonant today.
Entwined with the narrative is a score composed by Woodkid, performed and co-written by Nils Frahm. The delicate piano motifs of Winter Morning I culminate in a crescendo of strings, while the harmonium swells on the B-side are the foundation for De Niro’s narration: an encomium for those who shaped modern America.
Nils: ‘The opportunity to work on JR´s fantastic short film ELLIS came through my good friend Yoann aka Woodkid. We agreed on recording the piano parts in my studio in Berlin and so it happened that JR and Woodkid were guests at Durton studio on a wonderful late summer day in 2015. We managed to record all the crucial elements that day. The music fell in our laps and melted with the images: a wonderful experience. The film has stuck in my head ever since; it moved my heart and changed my soul. A couple of weeks later I had to cancel a trip to Brussels because of a terror warning; all events got cancelled and I stayed home, having an unexpected day off. I felt rather depressed that day, thinking that the Europe I knew was already gone. I sat down at the harmonium, listened to Robert De Niro’s voice and played for the rest of the day. The result is ‘Winter Morning II,’ the B-side of the ELLIS soundtrack release. Robert says it all in 17 minutes. We are not facing a refugee crisis. We are facing a crisis because we do not embrace, we do not sympathise and we cannot give up fear. Art can encourage so I hope this project will help fight the fear in all of us.’
There’s perhaps never been a more fitting time for this story, with all the proceeds going to the Sea Watch initiative, a non-profit charity dedicated to the protection and rescue of civilian refugees.