USA/France, 2010, 80 min
Anthropological in scope, sensuous in detail and emotionally resonant throughout, Véréna Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki’s Foreign Parts is an exemplary social record—one which hearkens back to the unsentimental poetry of James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men as well as the ground-up advocacy work of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The film takes a local interest in the Willets Point neighborhood in Queens, New York, an industrial enclave where cars are scrapped, salvaged and repaired. Enmeshed in a symphony of radios, drill bits, overhead plane traffic and much scraping and pounding (Sweetgrass sound editor Ernst Karel again works wonders here), we find an eclectic citizenry at work and leisure. Whether listening to a middleman bark orders for windshield glass, a Hasidic Jew explain how to wrap tefillen or a disillusioned young man’s monologue on the lures of drag racing, Foreign Parts is a potent trove of talk. The observational camera threads the yard’s pocked grounds on the heels of several local fixtures, a few of whom emerge as sharply etched characters. Meanwhile, the new Mets stadium looms in the near distance, emblematic of Mayor Bloomberg’s redevelopment plans for the entire area. Without recourse to voiceover or direct interviews, Foreign Parts raises essential questions about urban renewal’s effects on pluralism and the city’s working class. The Willets Point landscape is unavoidably political, but Paravel and Sniadecki remain adamantly concerned with the grain of human experience there—its bitterness and grace.
In English, Spanish and Hebrew with subtitles. Presented in association with Exploratorium. GGA Documentary Feature Contender.