LEF Program Assistant Nellie Kluz interviewed Verena Paravel, co-director of Foreign Parts, which recently won Best First Feature and the Special CINÉ CINÉMA Jury Prize at the Locarno Film Festival. Foreign Parts will have its US premier at the New York Film Festival.
Nellie: How did you come across the junkyard originally and decide to make a film about it? When you were starting out, how did you become immersed in that environment?
Verena: I was shooting my first short video 7 Queens, which consisted in filming my fleeting encounters from Flushing Queens to Time Square, all along the elevated tracks of the 7 Train. There are 150 nationalities living along the line, I wanted to walk under those tracks and cross almost the whole world. On my way, I saw the junkyards of Willets Point. I came back obsessively every day to hang out with people, learn about them and the place, and film. When you spend enough time in a place you end up being part of it.
Nellie: What was the nature of your collaboration with JP Sniadecki? How long did you spend shooting Foreign Parts, and did you have any other crew?
Verena: It became rapidly too hard for me to be alone in the junkyard and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay late at night. It is also physically complicated to carry all the equipment, talk to people, be there, and focus on what and how you are filming. It is a very overwhelming environment for the senses and also socially, emotionally. I asked J.P if he would like to share the experience with me. I took him to the junkyard, and from that day on, we shared seamlessly the camera, the microphone, the computer mouse, the beers, the food, the small room to sleep in in Flushing, etc. We were the crew. We speak the same visual language and we never had to argue, sometimes we just had to look at each other and the camera would move from one pair of hands to the other. And we learned from each other. We trust each other.
Nellie: Can you describe your experiences as a fellow at the Harvard Film Study Center? Has the fellowship aided you in making Foreign Parts?
Verena: It always helps to have people critically looking at your work. The Harvard Film Study Center is the perfect place for that. But more substantially, the Sensory Ethnography Lab is the place that equipped us intellectually.
Nellie: You did an in-progress screening with Artists in Context at Aladdin Auto, a garage near Cambridge – are you planning to make use of more settings like this? Can you talk a little bit about your plans for festivals and distribution?
Verena: We plan to screen the film in the junkyard, before all. Then, will follow the festivals that invited Foreign Parts. It will do its American premiere at the New York Film Festival, then Hamburg International Film Festival, Vancouver International film Festival, Valdivia, Viennale, Festival dei Popoli, BAFICI, etc.. Hopefully we will screen in other garages, chop shops, junkyards, roofs, bars, streets, wherever the film takes us.
Nellie: What has been your personal progress from an academic anthropology background to documentary filmmaking?
Verena: Both ethnographic work and documentary practice require being “in the field.” I was trained by an anthropologist who took us everywhere, streets, bars at night, markets, harbors, and was expecting from us to observe but also to experiment with our own life. I feel the same when in the field making a film, except that the camera, at the end, manifests a sense of “being there”, rendering a human experience that fits the unstable, opaque, ambiguous nature of the real. Filming can be one way of escaping one of the academic bad habits: the pedagogical desire, the desire for transparency. With a camera, I don’t feel the atrophy of the senses that I encounter in the writing process. Making film opens up a space between art and anthropology where, rather than following the canons of an academic work, you can recreate connections between forms, genres, where ethnography, comedy, art, melodrama, can communicate in unexpected ways.
Nellie: Did you learn anything about auto repair while shooting this film?
Verena: I always have been the one who teach mechanics to the rest of my family. If you want your timing belt to be changed, I can give you a good price.