Joe Lipstein's short documentary memorializes a local favorite, Big E's.
Joe Lipstein never really considered himself to be an artist. In fact, the Ringling College senior says he was something of a late-bloomer in his artistic endeavors.
When he enrolled in Ringling College four years ago to study illustration, the Connecticut native had only been drawing seriously for about a year. After a semester, he says he realized he was better suited for a different kind of art.
“I never thought of myself as an art kid,” he says. “But I always had an artistic mind and outlook. I figured out that drawing was maybe something I enjoyed, but it wasn’t necessarily my passion. I was much more drawn to telling interesting stories, and I decided to switch to documentary filmmaking.”
Now a senior, he recently completed his second documentary and thesis project, “R.I.P. Big E’s,” a short film telling the story of the recently closed greasy spoon, Big E’s.
The Indian Beach Plaza establishment closed in September, after rising rent costs caused owner Eric Hamilton to close the restaurant and community hub.
Located near Ringling College, the North Trail diner held special significance for many students, including Lipstein, who spent a lot of time eating, drinking and most importantly, he says, socializing in the popular restaurant.
“I was looking for a narrative story that spoke to me,” he says. “I realized this was right in front of my face. This was a place that was closing, and it was really special to a lot of people. It was a story I thought needed to be told. I don’t even remember the first time I went there, but it was a place that immediately felt like home.”
To make the film, Lipstein says he spent several weeks interviewing patrons about their experiences, and he found that many of the regulars had similar experiences.
“The biggest thing I learned is that you have to immerse yourself,” he says. “Documentaries are about much more than lighting and shooting. It’s about immersing yourself and being in the situation with them. One of the biggest compliments you can get is for someone to open up and share a part of themself with you.”
Lipstein says that because of its unique location between affluent and impoverished parts of town, Big E’s became a conflation of different backgrounds, life experiences and world views.
“It was an interesting cross-section of people,” he says. “People could meet and learn from one another. In a way, that’s what I hope to accomplish with my filmmaking. I love to see people looking at things differently. Hopefully I can provide that kind of eye-opening experience.”