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ShortList 2015: ‘One-Year Lease’ Turns Awful Landlord Into Unknowing Movie Star

Voicemail messages from a nosy landlady formed the basis for Brian Bolster’s short documentary

Brian Bolster endured a year in a New York City apartment with the landlady from hell, but at least he got a good movie out of it.

“One-Year Lease,” one of the finalists in TheWrap’s 2015 ShortList Film Festival, is a documentary that plays like a crazy fictional narrative.

A chronicle of the ultimate nosy landlord, it plays out in voicemail messages as an eccentric and combative elderly woman named Rita offers to feed Bolster and his roommate’s cat, wonders if they’re planning to throw out any pots and pans, mentions that she’s feeding a bird on the stoop outside their house and ends up repeatedly haranguing them as still photos and video footage document leaks, heating problems and a host of other miseries.

Brian Bolster

Getty Images

“We had over 100 voicemail messages from her in the course of a year living there, and I don’t know why we saved them,” said Bolster. “We were trying to document the leaks and the heating situation because we were so fed up, compiling a lot of stuff in case we needed to go to court over some of the issues.”

He added, “We knew within a month that we had made a mistake in signing a lease there, but it wasn’t until the last three months of living there that I thought we might have a movie.”

The 11-minute short, assembled from voicemail messages and from about five hours of footage, is very funny and very relatable to anyone who’s ever had landlord problems.

Bolster, who has made four previous short documentaries and would like to make a feature doc, said it was the quickest film he’s ever made, only costing a couple thousand dollars for color correcting, sound mixing and editing. “In many ways,” he said, “it was kind of cathartic making this film.”

And no, Rita has not seen “One-Year Lease” and doesn’t even know it exists. “We spoke with attorneys before we made the movie, and the advice I got is that the voicemail messages are our property,” said Bolster. “We obviously left on not-such-great terms, and we don’t ID her in the movie. I don’t feel like I owe it to her in any way — and she’s a very litigious woman, so I don’t want to provoke her.”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at Shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote through Aug. 18.