MoMA screens Willets Point documentary ‘Foreign Parts’

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Willets Point is often associated with rust, junk and auto shops — not fine art. But an award-winning documentary about the neighborhood will screen at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan until March 16.

The film, called “Foreign Parts,” chronicles the lives of several Willets Point denizens over the course of two years and offers insight into how the chaotic and gritty community functions.

“Willets Point is an amazing place,” said J.P. Sniadecki, who co-directed the film with Véréna Paravel. “The place is as much of a character as the characters that appear.”

On the surface, the neighborhood is a rough venue for no-holds-barred capitalism, according to Sniadecki.

The workers who toil in the auto shops dismantle cars with the precision of butchers, expertly slicing out steering columns and stereos or anything that can be hawked and resold.

“The way the place operates, it’s an organism,” Sniadecki said. “People rely on each other but also compete with each other.”

And the predominately immigrant workforce is nearly as diverse as the car parts, both of which have come from all over the world and now define the neighborhood.

Many people around the world who have watched the film could not believe the industrial neighborhood with its dilapidated metal buildings and pockmarked, unpaved road exists in New York City.

“It’s such a diverse area,” Sniadecki said. “People who see it for the first 15 minutes think it is a place in Brazil or Mexico.”

But soon enough viewers see the New York Mets’ Citi Field looming in the background, which emphasizes the forgotten nature of the Iron Triangle.

“It was kind of the castle and these are the serfs,” Sniadecki said.

The city loomed over the residents in a less literal way as well.

Rumors continually surface in the film about a plan to raze the buildings of the Iron Triangle to make way for a large redevelopment and the city’s option to exercise eminent domain to achieve that end.

The film was shot between the summers of 2008 and 2010 and those rumors have now become a reality.

But hardship is only one side of the neighborhood that Sniadecki and Paravel sought to capture. The reality of the area and the people are far more complicated.

“We really worked hard while shooting and editing to get the complexity real life has,” Sniadecki.

And life for many of the characters might include a mix of happiness, romance, drug use or violence.

“The film is more of a experiential portrait of this place,” Sniadecki said. “It doesn’t pursue a specific kind of argument.”

The film won the Jury Prize and best first film at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and Best Film at the Punto de Vista festival in Spain.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:41 am, October 12, 2011
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