Capturing Ghosts at the American Hotel

Hank Williams in Sag Harbor . . .
Ari Selinger, left, will shoot “The Ghost of Hank Williams” at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor. He is pictured during production of his film “Moondog Airwaves” with Conor Murphy, that film’s director of photography. Matt Heymann

When The Star last caught up with Ari Selinger, the 20-something filmmaker’s latest, “Moondog Airwaves,” shot at the now-defunct Bay Burger in Sag Harbor, was about to screen at the Sag Harbor Cinema. It was October 2016, and the 33-minute film, written and directed for his senior thesis at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, screened during the Hamptons International Film Festival. 

Barely two months later, the theater was destroyed by fire. While the theater undergoes reconstruction, Mr. Selinger, who splits his time between Manhattan and Sag Harbor, is in the last stages of preproduction on his next effort, for which he will return to the village he loves. Late this month “The Ghost of Hank Williams” will be shot in the American Hotel. 

Just as “Moondog Airwaves,” which was set somewhere in the rural South, was one of the last films to play at the cinema, he hopes that “The Ghost of Hank Williams,” set at a hotel in Knoxville, Tenn., where Williams stopped hours before his death, will be one of the first shown at the theater. 

“This one is exciting,” Mr. Selinger said last week. His films also include “Deuce and a Quarter,” filmed on Napeague and Montauk, and “Folks — Stories from Auschwitz,” featuring his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. “The Ghost of Hank Williams” will be “the first one I’m doing not as a student but with my own production company, shooting in a location I think is by far the coolest I’ve ever shot in.”

Viewers will “feel a lot of ghosts” in his next work, he said, describing the film as “a conversation between the past and present.” David Rysdahl, the lead in “Moondog Airwaves,” will be one of three in the cast — not counting the ghosts, that is. 

The film grew out of a monologue he wrote a few years ago, he said, about a bellhop at the Knoxville hotel. The plot, in part: “A ghost-hunting couple who have a crappy TV show — they were really excited about it when they were younger, but they’ve been doing it for many years — have a secret. Even though they do this show, they’ve never actually seen a ghost. It’s putting a damper on their relationship, it’s become a chore, and they’re losing love over it.” 

“I want to play into the American Hotel feeling like the crossroads of American culture,” Mr. Selinger said. “The cast is diverse. I’m trying to get people that don’t neatly fit into a movie about Hank Williams. It’s about them trying to unify over somebody that’s . . . not forgotten, but mythic in the minds of people who are younger.” Williams’s songs “Cold Cold Heart” and “I Saw the Light” will be featured, he said, the latter during “an epiphany scene.” 

A musician as well as a writer and director, Mr. Selinger and his brother are writing and producing the score. He and Lexi Tannenholtz are co-producing the film. He also plans to release a collection of original songs, “Music from Moontown,” this year. “Spiritually, Moontown is Sag Harbor,” he said, “but I wrote all the songs at Atlantic Avenue Beach” in Amagansett. 

Mr. Selinger has launched a fund-raising campaign for production and post-production of “The Ghost of Hank Williams” at gofundme.com. “If people relate to it,” he said of his upcoming film, “I hope it takes me where it takes me. This is building momentum for a feature.”

His overarching goal, he said, is “to honor the untold stories that I feel get neglected in bigger productions.” Though the Sag Harbor Cinema’s destruction was tragic, he chooses to see it through the lens of Greek mythology, the phoenix rising from the ashes of its predecessor. “Stories don’t have a language, they’re universal,” he said. “That’s why they’re so important. That’s why I’m a filmmaker.”