89 Steps: A Chapter of Living Los Sures follows Marta, a longtime resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s Los Sures neighborhood. Now struggling to afford the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, Marta must decide whether to stay or go. UnionDocs Executive Artistic Director Christopher Allen gives an overview the 1984 documentary Los Sures and UnionDocs’ ongoing work with the film, neighborhood and community.
Can you give viewers a brief summary of the film Los Sures?
Christopher Allen: In the late 70s and early 80s, the Southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn was one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. In fact, it had been called the worst ghetto in America. Los Sures is a film directed by Diego Echeverria in 1984. It skillfully represents the challenges of this time; drugs, gang violence, crime, abandoned real estate, racial tension, single parent homes, and inadequate local resources. Echeverria’s 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.
What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your interactive short?
Christopher Allen: Hopefully, they will have an understanding of a small part of the story of Marta Aviles today, the challenges she’s faced and the struggles she has overcome, and an experience of what it is to be in the Southside of Williamsburg. It would be great if the image of the neighborhood, which the major media has more or less exclusively portrayed as a “hipster” place, was understood to be a bit more complicated and recognized for its specific local history.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Christopher Allen: I don’t really consider myself an independent filmmaker. I am the founder and Executive Artistic Director of UnionDocs, a Center for Documentary Art that produces and presents documentary. Sometimes I’m a producer, sometimes a director, a programmer, a promoter, sometimes a carpenter, a janitor, sometimes just an idea guy. It’s rewarding because we are a small flexible space, building a strong team. We have a very direct relationship to the impact we make in our community and not too much meaningless bureaucracy.
What was one scene you wish you could have included in the project but had to be cut out of necessity?
Christopher Allen: We have an interactive scene where you are looking for an article in an archive that shows Marta when she was a child. In the image, she is with her parents huddled around a stove because their apartment building in Los Sures didn’t have adequate heat. You scroll through microfiche of El Diario and La Prensa and experience these old newspapers through Marta’s eyes. We are hoping to release that scene at a later date.
Which filmmaker(s) inspired you to get “behind the lens?”
Christopher Allen: Laura Poitras, Ross McElwee, Barbara Hammer, William Greaves, Jem Cohen and so many more…
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
Christopher Allen: UnionDocs puts on 100 powerful documentary events each year. I don’t like to play favorites. Check out our calendar!