I come from car country; Flint, MI to be exact, the birthplace (and tombstone) of General Motors and the city whose workers sat down on the job to help form the U.A.W. An affinity for movies, both fiction and non-fiction, about automobiles and community is pretty much ingrained in me, so it should come as no surprise that Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki’s Foreign Parts, which examines the structure and functioning of a community of chop shops, junk yards and auto repair businesses in Willets Point, Queens, is a movie I very much admire.
In the grand tradition of so many of the observational documentary films that have sprung from the Harvard Film Department, Foreign Parts chooses to forgo a linear narrative structure, instead focusing on an experiential relationship between the viewer, the film’s subjects, the images and geography of Willets Point itself, and the emotional environment experienced by the denizens of the place. The film captures the hustle and bustle of the days and does a good job of showing how the chaotic façade of the street is really just a door to a well-structured, well-organized community built upon collaboration, the archiving and indexing of automotive materials, specialization and a mutually beneficial competition; in Willets Point, the rising tide literally lifts all boats. Paravel and Sniadecki themselves drift in and out of the film, always willing to concede the presence of the camera and the artifice of filmmaking, but the generosity of the film’s subjects makes this seem less like an intrusion and more like an open invitation toward an honest acknowledgement of the community’s dilemma, a way for the filmmakers and audience to find themselves developing an investment in the fate of Willets Point. Paravel was on hand (with Sniadecki on Skype) to talk with the smattering of press after the screening, and their honesty and lack of pretense was a refreshing extension of the film’s goodwill. Sadly, many of my colleagues in the press chose not to attend this screening (the film is playing outside of the Main Slate in the Special Events section), but their loss is my gain; the film is a truly New York movie, the story of a vanishing community that deserves to be the center of a thoughtful dialogue among the citizens of New York City. Foreign Parts is playing this Sunday, October 10, 2010 at the Walter Reade Theater; another chance to experience that wonderful sense of discovery.
NYFF Selection Committee Member Melissa Anderson, Director Verena Paravel
October 5, 2010
The Walter Reade Theater
New York, NY