Foreign Parts (2010)
Directed by Véréna Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki
This documentary was shot by two anthropologists, unobtrusively and in ethnographic style. It is clear that they earned the trust of the residents of Willets Point, Queens, over the many months they shot the movie. Willets Point is the site of many junkyards and small shops, home to many marginalized working class and working poor residents, and it is a vibrant, thriving neighbourhood with plenty of community spirit. People look out for each other. However, it is also prime real estate, and at the time of filming, Citi Field had just been built and Michael Bloomberg had his eye on developing the area for tourism and high-end housing. Of course, this would have meant the current residents would have had to be relocated. As one person puts it in the extras, there are a lot of undocumented people living there, including him. (According to the New York Times, there is one legal resident only). Where are they going to go? What will they do for a living? They will lose their jobs and their homes. But they don't have much political sway.
The camera frames some beautiful shots; repetition and patterns inside the junkyard and warehouse are especially good for some lovely images. The camera also follows the residents of Willets Point around and allows them to tell their stories. We learn a little, not much, about their backgrounds. I would have liked to learn more about the homeless couple living in their van, unsure at one point during the cold winter months if one of them would wake up to find the other frozen to death. There is a sweet, charming woman who seems to live on the margins begging the auto guys for "a quarter" (she gets turned down frequently), but she is considered their friend, too; they throw her a nice birthday party at one point with music, dancing, and a beautiful cake.
At some points the movie is very slow, and there will be viewers who are understandably impatient with the meandering style. But it is well worth a watch for those who can tolerate slower documentaries. Even though the filmmakers refrain from external commentary, we can put together a picture of a community that functions as a tightly knit organism, in danger of being split apart and scattered. It's not a pretty picture, but Paravel and Sniadecki don't need to tell us; instead, they let the people of Willets Point speak for themselves.