On Oct. 1, St. Mary’s Theater Film and Media Department began the sixth annual film series on Ethnography and Alterity. Filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki kicked off the series with the screening of his documentary titled “Foreign Parts.”
Foreign Parts explored the imminent destruction of an industrial zone and the stories of the residents and workers who depended on its existence. The documentary, set in the neighborhood of Willets Point, Brooklyn, focused largely on an auto parts scrapyard and its community. “It’s about getting to know the space as it operates,” said J.P. Sniadecki. The film showed family and friends who lived, ate, worked, celebrated, and struggled in the junkyard. “This is my people, my friends,” said Julia, an older woman who lived in the area surrounding the zone. Other residents expressed similar sentiments about the community.
The film captured the fear of what little the 2000 individuals who worked at the junkyard would be left with once the zone was redeveloped under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. The film showed how politics affected this New York community. “It’s a political film but it’s not an activist film,” explained Sniadecki. Yet the film showed the sense of hopelessness that surrounded the junkyard residents and workers. “It’s a shame I don’t know what they’re going to do when this place closes down,” said Sarah who lived in an abandoned car in the scrapyard with her husband, Luis. “It’s getting really hard but this is how I live,” Sarah continued.
For Sarah and others in the community the junkyard was their only option and means of income and shelter. Although the community reorganization committee offered a program through LaGuardia College to the individuals who were being affected by the demolition plans, this was not an option since the residents lived in poverty. “It’s a real source of income but they’re in a difficult situation because they feel the city is neglecting them,” said Sniadecki
The documentary ended showing the community’s dissatisfaction with the redevelopment plans and the open-ended question of what would become of these individuals. After the film’s screening, Sniadecki continued to explain why he chose this location as the basis for his documentary. “I didn’t want to privilege a message, but I wanted to show how they were fighting for the survival of this place,” said Sniadecki. He commented on how he saw the zone to be “a beautiful place” and how he found its “rawness captivating.”
Sniadecki explained that he did not intend for his ethnographic film to take the shape that it did. “I was not trying to make an argument about development. We just wanted to spend time there and see what kind of film would come of it,” he said. However, the audience in Cole Cinema was still captivated by the documentary’s portrayal of the scrapyard residents’ stories. “I really appreciated the sense of community and how Sniadecki captured this collective struggle,” said junior Eric Portillo. “It really makes you sad to see people go through this,” Portillo continued.
The Ethnography and Alterity film series continues with two other experimental filmmakers, Sasha Waters Freyer and Kwame Braun.