When I spoke to Gabriel Gomez, the filmmaker behind iconic Dr. Martens Presents: Music and Film Series one sunny afternoon, he expressed a fear of “being a jack of all trades but master of none.”
The 29-year-old Brooklyn native does indeed excel in many fields: he’s a photographer, writer, filmmaker, production director and talent management with his own company, Crooked Letter. He graduated from LaGuardia and attended Purchase for one semester, got all A’s and decided, in true entrepreneurial spirit, “I think I need to do this on my own!”
Karl Marx, in an entirely different context, once said that in a society “where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity” that “each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes” it makes the individual free “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner…” Essentially, Gabriel is a frontrunner of a new generation of dynamic, layered artistry: of true, non-judgmental and unshackled creative freedom.
These five-minute mini-biopics are accounts of how the NYC artistic community has survived and adapted throughout the pandemic. As Gomez states, “As artists we need fuel to make better work.” The central question is, what fueled artists to keep going during these tough times?
Gomez himself admitted to struggling with feelings of depression and hopelessness during a year of not only death and disease but also a civil rights movement. Gomez admitted that, “Everything seemed so unimportant, and I wasn’t sure how my career played into that. I was really questioning my life like, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Do I want to drop it all and become a yoga teacher [laughs]’?”
To a certain extent, the Dr. Marten’s shorts series came at an ideal time in terms of inspiration, especially as Gomez’s shorts focused on New Yorkers, as community is one of Gomez’s highest values. When he talks of his Brooklyn upbringing, he does so with a real sense of pride, “Growing up in Brooklyn, community is incredibly important—growing up in world where I didn’t question race, sexual orientation, gender, any of that stuff as a kid.” He had found his fuel, and also ran “Crooked Letter Radio Hour,” that he describes as, “a catharsis for his community and full-time project throughout quarantine.”
The layered artist is not “messy and sprawling,” as Gomez once feared. It is multidimensional, boundless, inspirational and irrepressible; as demonstrated in these shorts, for which Dr. Marten’s gave Gomez complete creative freedom.
Gomez’s talent as a filmmaker uses atmospheric lighting, cleverly curated voicing of the artist’s stories, varied locations, subtle and artful integrations of gorgeous Dr. Martens’ footwear, as well as the juxtaposition of day and night scenes. The series is moving, authentic and lush, as well as illuminating.
One short follows Rosehardt, a writer and musician who Gomez also manages and who was deeply involved in the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, releasing an EP and creating a t-shirt with all proceeds going to organizations that promote social justice. For Rosehardt, progress is crucial and a question that forms the powerful basis of his selfhood, artistry and activism is, “What can I do while I’m here to make sure the Black people who come after me have a better life?”
The filmmaker representing LA during the pandemic is Ali Roberto, who has also been extraordinarily successful as a musician, photographer and director, and who admitted that, growing up with a single mom, she worked a bunch of different jobs—buying a pair of docs with her first paycheck. For her, Dr. Martens’ represents power and are the “embodiment of cool.”
Although her success in working on high profile Netflix series’ such as “Glow” and with networks such as HBO and NBC, Roberto states that, “Music and storytelling, if you put those two together, it’s the reason I exist.” Roberto also believes that female artists are “put in a box,” and now, with the endless possibilities and mediums we can utilize, that box is exploding.
Other artists committed to the project include Blimes and Gab, Cautious Clay, duendita, Frankie & the Witch, Fingers, Lauren Ruth Ward, NEZ, Orion Sun, The Regrettes, Stuyededeyed, Sunflower Bean and Tolliver. You can check them out at drmartens.com
Only four percent of the world’s population experience the magic of synesthesia: a gift that allows individuals to see letters, words, objects and sounds as having definitive color associations, and Gomez is one of the lucky ones. As our interview came to a close, he commented he had preempted it to be “golden brown.” And with their vast array of ever-expanding colors and styles, I’ll happily wait for that hue of docs to make their appearance.
Get your swag on with kids and adult footwear at www.drmartens.com, where you can also view this inspired series.