Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
This refurbished 1984 documentary on the Brooklyn neighborhood once known as “Los Sures” recalls a time before hipsters.
In South Williamsburg today, you can find fancy new condos, J. Crews, and rainbow bagel sensations popping up near Hasidic neighborhoods that have stood the test of time. Now, a snazzy new Whole Foods is set to open on Bedford Avenue, and we all know what that means.
Remie Geoffroi spells it out in New York Magazine:
It’s hardly news that the neighborhood is changing. Its transformation from Hasidic-Hispanic enclave to the red-hot center of all things artisanal to, most recently, a shadow of the meatpacking district has been thoroughly, even obsessively, documented by the media.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, before this area was touched by gentrification, it was known for its drugs, gang violence, racial tensions, and urban blight—all symptoms of being one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. But filmmaker Diego Echeverria’s 1984 documentary Los Sures pierced through that outward facade and showcased the complex lives of the people who called this Dominican-Puerto Rican neighborhood home.
In 2007, Williamsburg-based UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art got hold of a rare VHS copy of Echeverria’s work, which they then restored and showed around the neighborhood. It got an overwhelming response, and sparked the Living Los Sures project, which aims to preserve residents’ memories of their changing neighborhood—and their current relationship to it.
One of the features of Living Los Sures is an interactive community platform called Shot-by-Shot, which extracts sights and scenes from the film and lets older residents and their kids tell their own personal anecdotes about these spots. Another is an interactive short about Marta, one of the main characters in the 1984 film, as she grapples with the decision to stay or leave the neighborhood 30 years on. The project also includes 30 other, newer short films inspired by the original.
“It’s a huge research project, and a lot of work, but these are stories you won’t find anywhere,” says the narrator in this trailer video about the project.