Foreign Parts (directed by the team of Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki) has all the makings of a groan-inducing activist documentary along the lines of Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s The Garden or (worse) a ghoulish voyeur’s-eye-view of extreme poverty in America. Instead, Paravel/Sniadecki have pulled off the rare verite documentary that manages a formal grace and doesn’t patronize or fetishize its subjects.
The film is essentially a field recording of Willet’s Point, Queens, circa 2008 -2009. Also known as the Iron Triangle, Willet’s Point is a little slice of the Third World wedged in between the Van Wyck Expressway and Citi Field. It’s a “neighborhood” only in an abstract sense, consisting of a handful of auto parts warehouses (the area also served as the setting for Ramin Bahrani’s Chop Shop) and inhabited by only one official resident (while playing host to plenty of “unofficial” squatters, vagabonds, and societal outcasts). The area has no infrastructure or city services; heavy rains transform the streets into knee-high rivers of garbage and sewage. Willet’s Point is barely an upgrade from a landfill.
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