In the 1980s, South Williamsburg was a different place altogether – a neighborhood known as Los Sures. Before the invasion of skinny jeans, designer coffee, and swanky bars, Williamsburg was home to a poor, yet vibrant Latino community, now nearly erased by the impact of gentrification.
Enter UnionDocs: a nonprofit center for documentary art, which set out to ensure that the experiences of the Los Sures community would be preserved. In collaboration with the New York Public Library, they lovingly restored Diego Echeverria’s 1984 documentary Los Sures, which offers a poignant glimpse into the Williamsburg that once was.
After receiving an overwhelming reception screening in New York theaters this past spring, this essential document has now found its home with curated online cinema MUBI, where it is currently available to audiences across the globe.
Diego Echeverria’s film skillfully represents the many challenges faced by what was one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. Though drugs, gang violence, crime, and racial tension plagued the residents of Los Sures, at the same time the documentary 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 and persevere.
In his introduction to the film, published on MUBI’s Notebook, Echeverria writes of the palpable spirit of Los Sures: “walking those streets one immediately felt a magnetic attraction to it. There was so much going on at all times, and it had such a forceful character and sense of identity.”
Although this story hits especially close to home for New Yorkers (quite literally), it also rings true for any community that has faced displacement or marginalization, and raises questions as to the true meaning and function of community. As critic Glenn Kenny points out, “Watching Los Sures, the question that nags the back of one’s mind is less ‘what makes a neighborhood “authentic”?’ than ‘what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood?’”
In conjunction with the restoration, UnionDocs also developed Living Los Sures, an expansive project which builds upon the content in the film to further tell the story of this lost community and preserve a valuable piece of Brooklyn’s history. A selection of short films from the Living Los Sures project will be available on the Notebook throughout the run of the film.
For Echeverria, the resurgence of his film has been a meaningful experience: “one of my greatest joys as a documentarian has been to see this film, made 33 years ago, come back to life with a younger generation…. It is not often that a documentary film gets a second life after so many years.” Thanks to this second life, New Yorkers today have the chance to travel back in time and re-connect with the history and roots of our city.
LOS SURES is showing exclusively on MUBI through October 2, 2016. MUBI streams the best cult, classic, and award-winning films from around the globe. Visit mubi.com/bkmag to get 30 days of hand-picked films for free.