Slamdance: ‘Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater’ a Funny, Chaotic Take on Life in New York City

Still of Austin Cassel and Isadora Leiva in Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater. (Photo Courtesy Slamdance 2022)

Still of Austin Cassel and Isadora Leiva in “Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater.” (Photo Courtesy Slamdance 2022)

By Whit Fuller, Arts Writer


Slamdance 2022 film “Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater” is an uncomfortable, enticing depiction of one woman’s life in an unstable couple’s Brooklyn apartment. The film was written and directed by Justin Zuckerman. It premiered as part of the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival. This year’s festival was entirely virtual. Slamdance focuses on emerging artists and is usually held in late January in Park City.

“Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater”

The sarcastic comedy focuses on a young woman named Lisa (Isadora Leiva) and her new roommates Holly (Kelly Cooper) and Bill (Michael Patrick Nicholson). The couple have a turbulent relationship that gradually becomes Lisa’s problem. She also learns to navigate the strange Brooklyn landscape where everyone seems either disillusioned with or too aware of their status as a struggling artist.

There are many subtle and not-so-subtle things that intensify the strangely funny turmoil of “Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater.” In an early scene, Holly uses the bathroom while Lisa stands awkwardly in the doorway. Holly tells Lisa that she has repainted the bathroom a different color annually. She asks Lisa in the same breath if she has ever read Moby DickHolly’s rapid-fire questions set the tone for her sporadic character and the discordant tone of the film more broadly. The scene is made more obnoxious by Lisa’s uncomfortable and reserved presence in the doorway.

According to its synopsis, the film had a budget of less than the cost of the apartment in which it was filmed. The low budget and the grain of the film’s camera lend a quality that is reminiscent of home movies. These elements contribute to the film’s atmosphere perfectly. In spite of its small budget and deceptively simple storyline, “Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater” is a satirical and chaotically enjoyable experience. 

Reviewing “in An Empty Theater”

The film is a masterclass in chaos and disillusionment at its core. There are strangely self-aware lessons to be learned in the subtext of what initially strikes the viewer as a simple satirical piece about New York. The film does pose questions about what exactly New York is. In one moment, Lisa muses on this aloud to her co-worker Sean (Austin Cassel): “Is New York a place? Is it an idea? Or is it something deeper?” she asks.

From struggling artists in college to dysfunctional friend groups and generally turbulent interactions — the film seems to err on the side of caution when it comes to glamorizing the city and its inhabitants. However, the answer is really up to the viewer. The film fits the bill of a festival celebrating emerging artists. It seems to simultaneously critique and celebrate the joys of artistic creation and youthful existence in the city.

Whether it be for love, recognition of artistic talent, or to fit into the picture of what New York is truly like — “Yelling Fire in An Empty Theater” takes a turbulent and enjoyable satirical stab at what it means to be a young person in New York. 


You can find more information about the festival on their official website.


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