A very different documentary from the others we saw at Flare, this one picks up another, universal theme - gentrification. It's a bit theme if you live in London - as we see swathes of one of the most diverse cities in the world gradually bleached into homogeneity, the battle between money and culture is ever present. And on current evidence, not being won by culture.
The Crown Heights area of Brooklyn (weirdly where Match was shot - see later post) has long been famous for being home to the oldest black gay bar in America. That description doesn't really do it justice. We Came to Seat is the story of the Starlite Lounge, a dive bar / nightclub opened in 1962 by Mackie Harris. Over the years it became a refuge in a neglected area for people of all colours and sexual orientation. Run specifically not to exclude anyone, it has long outlived the nearby gay bars, or at least it did until 2010.
Sold out by the existing owners (in all senses of the phrase) the Starlite was given 30 days to vacate the premises so it could be handed over to its new owners as agreed - empty. An interview with the new owner makes that exact point and the word 'empty' has never resounded so much. Far from being the giant corporate monster you expect him to be, the new owner is a small businessman and immigrant who came to America ironically expecting the kind of treatment afforded the patrons of the Starlite. His complete lack of interest and knowledge of the local cultural significance of the bar is understandable but also profoundly sad.
Kate Kunath and Sasha Worztel's movie follows the community leaders and current owners of the Starlite as they desperately try to get the culture of the building recognised and save it from an ignominious end. The sporadic support of the members of that community is heartbreaking to witness and asks some very deep questions about what people are willing to do to preserve their cultural heritage. The rotting, badly maintained building is undeniably in desperate need of work and the admission by the current owners of the bar that 'it could be a profitable business' mean that the movie manages to subtly present both sides of the argument whilst spending nearly the whole of its running time with the staff and patrons of the bar.
We Came to Sweat is a desperately sad tale but one that is enlightened by the positive energy exuded by the denizens of the Starlite Lounge. Sadly, we seem destined to lose places such as this as even members of the community fail to turn up to a protest outside the very bar they are so desperate to save.