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This month, L&SM offers a pairing of two hour-long documentaries, which - despite having been made more than 30 years apart - find striking commonality in their study of the personalities and hardships of two New York neighborhoods. On one side is Khalik Allah's staggering FIELD NIGGAS, a hypnotic exercise in video-portraiture which affords an unsettling but wholly empathetic depiction of the nighttime corner-dwellers at East Harlem's 125th Street & Lexington Avenue. On the other side is Diego Echeverria's rediscovered 1984 study of the historically Puerto Rican and Dominican area of South Williamsburg known as LOS SURES; an area that has been subjected to drastic gentrification in the decades following the film's production.
Together, these works exemplify cinema's ability to function as a milepost for the ever-evolving culture and landscape of a community, while concurrently offering proof to the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
HD Video, 60min
"The combination is simple: a lot of slow motion portraiture combined with a soundtrack of snippets of people's conversation and interview. This straightforward method yields one of the most powerful and compassionate statements on race, on politics, on class, on policing, on drugs, that I've encountered in contemporary American cinema."
- Zach Campbell, Critics RoundUp
"The result is an intimate movie with a metaphysical grandeur, a detailed local inquiry that displays the crushing power of societal forces as well as the passion and vitality of those who endure."
- Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Praised in the pages of of The Guardian and The New York Times, and christened by Time Magazine as Harlem's "official" street photographer, Khalik Allah has earned notoriety for his ability to capture visceral, unflinching images of marginalized subjects in a manner that is untethered to liberal or conservative proselytization. By expanding his still photographic work to the realm of video, he allows his subjects to speak for themselves, offering a rarely extended form of agency to those in front of his lens. The resulting work is every bit as contextually complex and is it visually mesmerizing. Most recently, Allah has earned mainstream acclaim for his work as a contributing cinematographer on the near universally-celebrated filmic accompaniment to Beyoncé's LEMONADE.
HD Video, 57min
“An authenticity that has been captured by no fiction film I’ve ever seen.”
– L.A. Weekly
“Both an invaluable record of pre-gentrification Brooklyn and an ode to a community’s resilience.”
In the early 1980s, Diego Echeverría took a 16mm camera into the streets of the Southside of Williamsburg, then a primarily Puerto Rican neighborhood and one of the city’s poorest, most crime-ridden areas. Still, amidst the urban blight, Echeverría finds a thriving street culture in which music, breakdancing, and graffiti abound.
Los Sures skillfully represents the challenges residents of the Southside faced: poverty, drugs, gang violence, crime, abandoned real estate, racial tension, single-parent homes, and inadequate local resources. The complex portrait also celebrates the vitality of this largely Puerto Rican and Dominican community, showing the strength of their culture, their creativity, and their determination to overcome a desperate situation. Beautifully restored for the 30th anniversary premiere at the New York Film Festival, this documentary is an invaluable piece of New York City history.
Produced over 5 years by 60 artists at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art, LIVING LOS SURES is an expansive project about the Southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Known by its long-term Latino residents as Los Sures, the neighborhood was one of the poorest in New York City in the late 70s and early 80s. In fact, it had been called the worst ghetto in America. Today, it is the site of a battle between local identity and luxury lifestyle. With the restoration of LOS SURES, a brilliant work of cinéma vérité filmmaking as a starting point, the project has developed into a collection of 40 short films, the interactive documentary 89 STEPS, and the cinematic people’s history SHOT BY SHOT, demonstrating new possibilities for collaboration between an arts institution and its surrounding community to collect memories and share local culture.