NEW YORK A look at the powerful connection between a pair of outdoor ping pong tables, in the heart of New York City, and the unlikely group of people they’ve brought together, from homeless people to investment bankers to gangbangers. Rain or shine, they’ll be there. At “The Tables“. A beautiful, very beautiful, 15-minute documentary by Jon Bunning, filmmaker and art director based in Brooklyn, NY. Watch the short film here!
In the middle of New York City, tucked away in the corner of Bryant Park, sit two outdoor ping pong tables where anyone is free to play. Young or old, rich or homeless, it doesn’t matter. During the day, the park provides paddles and balls, but after 7pm the regulars show up, armed with their own. Every night they come together to battle each other and the elements, playing in the wind, rain and even snow. And out of this shared love of the game, a bond was formed between an unlikely group of people. This is the story of the many lives these tables have touched, including the gangbanger who helped put them there.
The Tables was filmed over the course of four years. It all began when I was walking by Bryant Park one day and noticed some ping pong tables. Being a huge fan of the game, I stopped to check it out and was immediately drawn to all the interesting characters. After visiting a few times, I discovered there were tournaments so I signed up to play. I got destroyed in the first round! But I learned that at night, there’s a whole regular crew and they come armed with their own paddles and balls. Each regular had a story. One in particular was an older African American gentleman named Gregory. We quickly bonded over our shared love of film. What I didn’t know at the time was that Gregory was homeless. You certainly wouldn’t know it if you met him. Having just recently completed my first short film, Stroup Guitars, I was looking for a new documentary subject and this seemed like a gem.
At first I just hung out for a few weeks and got to know everyone. Then I brought my camera to take pictures of one of the tournaments and posted them on Facebook. Everyone loved the photos and it got them comfortable with me being around and filming them. Gregory was instrumental in helping me wrangle people for interviews and get them excited about the project. He would also watch my gear and stand in when I was blocking interview shots. He even met me in a blizzard to film some winter shots! When you’re a one-person crew, filming in a public space with so many moving parts can be a daunting task. Imagine even a bare bones crew and think about the stress of each person’s job. Now combine all that stress into one and that’s what I was feeling! The irony is that the park is where everyone goes to get away from their stress, but for me it was the opposite. I was always worried about the sound levels, or keeping the shot in focus, or trying to get good interview answers, etc. But luckily everyone was very supportive of the project and it was always great to show up at the park and get first bumps from the whole crew. Nothing good comes easy and making this film was an incredibly rewarding experience.
One of the first things that struck me about the tables in Bryant Park was that a homeless person and a Wall Street banker could play as equals. People from allover the world had been brought together by these tables. Social status, nationality, religion, age, sex – it didn’t matter. And the more I got to know these people, the more I discovered just how much these tables meant to them. For some, it helped them to find work and a place to live, for others it helped them get off drugs, and for many it gave them a sense of community and belonging that helped them overcome hardships. In the wise words of Gregory, “The Tables allow you to become a better person.” – Jon Bunning
More About: www.jonbunning.com/the-tables