A deserving winner of the Best First Feature prize at this year’s Locarno International Film Festival, Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki’s Foreign Parts was produced with the support of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnographic Lab—the same department that produced Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash’s Sweetgrass (Castaing-Taylor is the program’s director). There are no sheep in Foreign Parts, but its relationship to the earlier film is unmistakable: not only in the sense that Sniadecki and Paravel favor an immersive yet unobtrusive documentary style, which eschews narration or contextualization, but also in its focus on a long-standing yet vanishing professional community.
Both films are concerned with American environments, but the locations could not be more different. Sweetgrass unfolds against the expansive backdrop of Montana’s Beartooth mountains, with its jagged rocks, roaring creeks and flat sight-lines, and so even in the absence of detailed exposition, the film is easily understandable as a kind of classical Western adventure. It’s a left-to-right journey across perilous terrain. Foreign Parts, by contrast, is set in an urban space: the Willets Point neighborhood of Queens in New York, a god-and-civic-planner-forsaken patch of mud and snow dotted with chop shops (and in fact the setting for Ramin Bahrani’s 2007 drama Chop Shop). Read Adam Nayman’s review of Foreign Parts.