On September 9, Quad Cinema in New York City hosted a special screening of Director Cheryl Dunn’s new documentary “Moments Like This Never Last.” Through archival footage and recordings, she tells the story of Dash Snow, who went from graffiti artist in the mid-90s to gallery feature in the early 2000s, until his unexpected death by overdose.
Snow recounts how he started writing graffiti at an early age, how he was sent to a juvenile detention facility in Georgia, from which he eventually ran away, and how his personal art developed in his tight-knit community of friends on the Lower East Side. Throughout the film, actors, gallerists, photographers, and other friends of Snow paint a vivid picture of who he was. Good looking. Charismatic. Young. Reckless. Feral. Punk. Pushing limits. Daredevil. All the while, Dunn shows Dash as such, and more, weaving interview and candid footage with images of his graffiti, collages, and life.
This love letter to Dash Snow, as the moderator in the Q&A described it, brings the viewer into the world of an artist gone too soon. For an hour and a half, you are welcomed into the circle, preserving the energy and vision, and exhilaration that Snow brought to life.
Below are excerpts from the post-screening Q&A session with Director Cheryl Dunn and other panelists.
There are a lot of people who make movies or write things or take photos or whatever, where they’re searching for a story, and you always write love letters instead. Tell us a little bit about this labor of love and why you needed to make this movie, and why we need to see it.
Cheryl Dunn, Director:
First, I start with New York. I start with people that come here to make things because they’re inspired by artists who have come here before, and they need to come here and be here, as I did. For Dash, I was fascinated by the kids that grew up here. That was different from me. I was close, but I wasn’t in it. [I was fascinated by] what that was like: to have this history in this magical city like you were born into it, and how that informed you. I always think about context. It’s so important to what people make. And that generation was super specific with what New York was like at that time. I studied art history. I always thought it was important to document artists making things, particularly early in their career, banging off some film and shooting some stills just to have it. That time as a young artist is a precious time, before the business of art, before the business of anything gets in the way. It’s super pure, and it’s really a precious moment to capture. I guess that’s the start of it.
Beautiful. It also has such a great title. I think we’ve all been in those moments that never last. Especially when we’re young and we think we’re going to be young forever, or we don’t really have a perspective on it. We don’t always know how ephemeral it is, but we kind of know-how special it is. Explain what your relationship was to that moment. Did it seem like it was ephemeral at that time?
Teddy Liouliakis, Friend of Snow:
I remember the beginning, meeting Dash when he was 17 years old, rubies in his mouth, had a gold tank, came in with a medallion. I’m like, Who the hell is this guy? He was like an alien almost. I’m sitting in Ryan’s room and I’m looking at all these kids: Dash, Mariana, and Kunle. Mariana was living on our block. Ryan and I were about three or four years older. As we got to know these guys, we built this brotherhood of misfits, outsiders, weirdos. We all came together and the high jinks we would pull off. It felt like, “Yo, this is so stupid that we’re doing this, but I guarantee you we’ll be talking about it one day down the line, laughing about it.” It was that pure bliss that is like a high. You knew that this is so stupid, but it’s awesome right now. You knew it wouldn’t last long. And for Dash, [that was one of the things] he used to say, “Moments like this never last.”
I would love to talk about the soundtrack to his life and our lives back then. What was the soundtrack?
Brian DeGraw, Musician:
Well, there was one soundtrack that was happening culturally in the city, but I don’t necessarily think that was Dash’s personal soundtrack. At Dash’s house, there was a lot of Neil Young going down. A lot of random, weird records that he would find that you got really psyched on. A lot of rock and roll music. I feel like a lot of people were under the impression that he was more of a hip-hop guy, but I never really saw that.
First and foremost, it was a community of friends. And his friends that were musicians had some songs that were in there. And there was a Neil Young song that I tried my hardest to get. When you edit a film, you put music that you think you want to be there, but then you have to license it. Licensing the music took a year. I initially thought this soundtrack would be rock. Then I went to this performance that Brian [Degraw] did with the Bicycle Film Festival, with the orchestra. With his phenomenal visual musical connection, I thought, “Oh no, he has to do this.” It was the best thing I ever did, which was to have Brian score this movie, because of his connection to Dash and the city. It’s not rock but it’s perfect.
One of the things that you can’t avoid in the movie, and I think you nuance it nicely, is this huge issue of class. How do we read wealth into this story? I think he has a great line where he says he was rich until he was 13. How did that come up in your relationship to him?
My experience is that he always kind of shunned it. He wanted to do it on his own. He told me one time that there was an attempt to write him out of the will. They had sent him some legal paperwork, and in big block letters with a marker, he wrote “F**k Off”, and he sent it back to them. He was content not living a privileged life, earning his way. He went to extremes to accomplish this, more so than he had to, but it was his way of earning his stripes. Especially as a young kid, he ran away, multiple times. He weaved his way into society. His whole thing was he wanted to earn his stripes. And he did. He went out and got them. He ultimately paid the price for it. But he accomplished what he needed to.
I guess the other elephant in the room is the drugs. When we lost Dash, it was like the last brutal wake-up call for a lot of people. I don’t know how everyone experienced that or how you registered it. A lot of really great artists I think took another inspiration in Dash’s death. Does that make any sense? Would anyone like to say something about that?
When I was first told, I couldn’t believe it. I kept shaking my head, going this is not real. It’s not real and it hit me, it came to me: New York is different now. He was like this shining light that moves a community. It moves people and affects people, and then it’s gone. And then it’s a different place. That’s how I felt about his departing. You can ask, is it because of that? Or is that because I’m this old? Or is it because New York is changing? I don’t know. But for me, it was the most pivotal pivot in New York City in my lifetime when he left.
His passing saved a lot of people’s lives. There were a lot of unfortunate incidents along the way where we lost other brothers, but for the most part, a lot of us, one by one, quit the high jinks and started valuing our lives. I think before we didn’t care. A lot of us thought we wouldn’t last past 45. We always tried to up the ante, and when he passed, I remember we all got really messed up because we couldn’t believe it. In true Dash fashion, we decided to get blackout, a bunch of us. But slowly after the shock wore off, a lot of people started doing an about-face and started to take care of themselves. That was the best thing to come of this, it saved a lot of people.
I want to talk about art. I think that a lot of the intensity of his art is coming to fruition now. He would have been 40 this year. Saturday is the 20-year anniversary of 9/11. He was so close to this town. He really lived on the edge and really felt like his art was about everyday events. He made art about what was going on right now and I think it’s kind of ironic and important that this movie is coming out now. I think that he really represented freedom.
What was the process like for making the film, using archival footage?
I have a lot of footage of him young, as a 19-year-old, when I met him, with weird, generic interviews. Then we collaborated on a few things, and I would keep in touch with him and film him at shows and stuff. I also had a lot of archival footage of New York at the time because my studio was down by World Trade Center, so I could tell that New York story. Ideally, for me, the best documentaries are not someone telling you a story but you looking at a story in footage. I interviewed a lot of people, but I tried to use them in real footage. It was right before people had video on phone. I didn’t have that but there were a lot of pictures and not that much video. And as the process went on, I would post that I’m doing this and then I’d get a message from someone in Paris saying they have footage. And I’d ask for that. The aim was to have a fully archival film and I had half of it, and I tried to find more. Then I created some. I shot a lot of 16 trying to illustrate what people were telling me and having people on camera talk as much as possible. That was the aim. And then Rebecca, my genius editor, and I decided we’re not going to go five minutes without seeing Dash, without hearing his voice. He’s the total thread and you don’t veer too much away from him. It’s his story. As many people have said, there were many sides to many stories. Whether it’s the story, it is his point of view because the point was to make his story, whether it’s real or not. It’s his story.
Dash knew he was the subject of the film, but at what point did you decide, since you were shooting 20 years ago, to make about it about his death?
Twenty years ago, I knew a lot of graffiti writers and it was really a culture that was fascinating to me. I thought someday I’m going to make a film about graffiti. I met him during a shoot at the street market, where I was shooting stills for a book. I had my video camera, and he was such a magnetic kid that I decided to shoot some video. Not that I was going to make a film about Dash. I was going to make a film about graffiti writers. But he was so magnetic, and I felt like, as I did for many artists, just shoot some tape, just document artists early in their career, just to have some footage. I had it to someday make something, not like I’m going to make a Dash Snow movie. At that time, I never thought that he would be gone in seven years. It was inconceivable. When it happened, I had this understanding through other experiences that you need to protect a story. There were people coming in from Europe and the West Coast saying, “We want to make a film about Dash. Do you have any footage?” My response was, “Who are you? Did you even know this guy?” And in talking to friends, we decided we had to protect this story. And that led to me deciding that I will embark on this and try to make this happen.
“Moments Like This Never Last” is now showing in select cinemas and available on select streaming platforms.